Canada loves its hockey, but it’s soccer — sorry, football — that gets the rest of the world pumped
My friend Javier Adasme called me on Saturday afternoon, right smack in the middle of the Toronto Argonauts media availability.
Right. Javier knows that when the Canadian national soccer team isn’t playing, my support switches over the England, the land of three grandparents.
Javier has lived in Toronto for years, but his support never changes. He’s from Chile and follows his national side through thick and thin. Lately that has been easy, as the Chilean team qualified this year for the 2014 World Cup, marking two straight World Cups for the South American side. Chile finished third in the South American qualification tournament (CONMEBOL) with an impressive 9-1-6 record. Everybody knows, in most places in the world, soccer is a religion — almost like hockey here in Canada, but even more so because, as Javier explains, outside of soccer, there are few serious options for the masses. Ice hockey is huge in the Great White North, but there are still tons of soccer people in Canada, basketball people, baseball people ... In Chile, soccer (football) rules unequivocally. When asked what the most popular sport in Chile outside of soccer, Javier, who attended Tuesday night’s friendly between Chile and Brazil at the Rogers Centre decked out in a Chile shirt and hat, took a few seconds and then finally came up with tennis.
“We won the (men’s) gold medals at the (2004) Athens Olympics,” he said. “And it was pretty huge for a time after that.”
“Everyone wants to be a soccer player back home,” he added. “The first toy every kid gets for Christmas is a soccer ball.”
Javier grew up in Santiago cheering for the famed Colo-Colo team and remembers being 11 years old when his uncle took him to the game where Chile defeated Ecuador to qualify for the 1982 World Cup in Spain.
“I remember Carlos Rivas, who played for Colo-Colo, scored a goal,” said Javier. “And now he lives in the Toronto area.”
Rivas’ son, Carlos Rivas Godoy, plays for the Canadian national team sometimes.
Javier still watches every Chile game on TV, or if he’s working, on the Internet. And he still follows his beloved Colo-Colo side. As for Tuesday’s friendly against juggernaut South American rival Brazil, the only national side ever to have played in every World Cup final, Javier explained that there’s not a lot of natural animosity between the two sides. In fact, he said, many Chileans cheer for Brazil when their home team isn’t playing.
“I know a lot of Chilean people are like that,” he said. “If Chile is not in the World Cup, they follow Brazil. Argentina is the one we don’t like. Many Chile fans feel Argentinian fans turn their nose down on you, like we’ve never won anything.”
Chile is also a world powerhouse, finishing third at the 1962 World Cup and recording four second-place finished at the Copa Americas championships.
But it was Brazil, the most celebrated national team in the world — winners of a record five World Cups — who was the better side on Tuesday night. Playing in front of an exuberant crowd of 38,514, most decked out in either yellow or red, Brazil, currently ranked 11th in the world (one spot ahead of Chile), displayed an explosive attack and almost scored a number of times in the second half.
The yellow and blue opened the score when Oscar intercepted a Chile clearing pass and crossed over to Hulk (Givanildo Vieira de Souza), who buried a shot low past Chilean keeper Claudio Bravo at the 14th minute.
Eduardo Vargas, the best player on the night for Chile, had a good scoring chance early in the second half, but sent his strike wide. Vargas would tie it later in the 71st minute on a spectacular goal.
Goalkeeper Bravo kicked it down field to Jean Beausejour, who flicked it over to Vargas in front of Brazilian ’keeper Julio Cesar and Vargas buried it.
Two minutes later, Robinho put Brazil back ahead, but was ruled offside. But then at the 79th minute, Robinho scored, finishing a tick-tack-toe passing play with a header past a sprawling Bravo.
The Brazilians dominated in the second half with wave after wave of scoring chances, many on the counter-attack. Though he didn’t score, Brazilian star Neymar had the Brazilian supporters on their feet numerous times, with his dazzling dribbling and play-making.
Everything about Tuesday’s Friendly was first-rate, except unfortunately, for the playing surface. Organizers trucked grass in for the game after the Argos game on Sunday, but large chunks kept popping up throughout the match. But at the final whistle, with the thrilling spectacle ending 2-1 in favour of Brazil, both groups of supporters cheered and waved their flags. Including Javier.
Brazilian coach Luiz Scolari was asked about the Canadian support at the Friendly.
“I don’t think there were any Canadians. I saw Chileans and Brazilians,” he said with a laugh. “Probably there were a lot of Canadians there and we received in our hearts this love that they provided to us.”