Canadian fraternity still strong ahead of FIFA World Cup

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The next time they meet again, Canada will prepare to play in the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

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BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Each time the Canadian men’s national soccer team comes together, it’s as if the group is reunited.

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So, before leaving the MOL Football Academy training ground on Monday, the squad gathered for one last group photo. It was Canada’s last training session before they face Uruguay here at the pole at Stadion Tehelne on Tuesday.

The next time they meet again, Canada will prepare to play at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

“It’s always great whenever we can get together,” Canadian central defender Steven Vitoria said on Monday. “We have this brotherhood and every chance we may have to gel more and connect more, we always look forward to it. I think we’re doing a good job of getting the most out of these camps.

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“It’s coming to an end with another big game, but it’s been fantastic, especially knowing we have the biggest tournament in the world just around the corner.”

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Canada met in Bratislava early last week and played World Cup hosts Qatar in Vienna, Austria on Friday. Cyle Larin and Jonathan David scored to give Canada a 2-0 win.

While it was good for the team to play someone outside the Concacaf region for the first time in four years, Qatar was the main course appetizer in Uruguay.

Finishing top of the latest Concacaf qualifying group ahead of Mexico and the United States for the first time in its history, Canada now believes it can swim with the big fish in world soccer. The match against Uruguay should provide a good gauge if this is true.

Whatever the result against Uruguay, however, the players enjoyed gathering in Europe, especially since the last time they met in Vancouver in June, things went off the rails with games canceled, postponed and boycotted.

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Canada had their match against Iran canceled amid protests and replaced it with a game against Panama, which the players refused to play due to a contract dispute over the awarding of Cup prizes of the world.

And although the dispute is not settled, the players have remained focused on the pitch in Slovakia.

“It’s always special to be together, but that makes it even more special because the World Cup is a big goal that we worked hard for,” Vitoria said. “It’s sinking, everyone knows it’s just around the corner and we’re trying to make the most of those opportunities to bet together.

“It’s not always easy, we’re together for a short time and guys come from all over the world. But it’s something we always look forward to and I think we always do a great job of enjoying our time together.

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The core of the Canadian team have been together through the entire World Cup qualifying cycle and have developed a strong friendship with one another over the years.

“We’re a group of brothers and we’ve seen each other for so long now, and every time you see your brothers after three or four months, it’s always an exciting feeling,” said Canadian midfielder Sam Adekugbe. “But it’s not like we just talk to each other at camp and then disappear into our individual environments. They’re some of my best friends, they’re people I’ve played football with since I was a kid and we always look out for each other.

IN TOP SHAPE

Canadian midfielder Stephen Eustaquio picked the right moment to play the best soccer of his career.

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The FC Porto midfielder is also pulling the strings for Canada and is a key reason for the team’s success in qualifying for their first men’s World Cup since 1986.

Eustaquio, 25, has joined one of Portugal’s biggest teams and is starting to see more and more ground. He has played two full UEFA Champions League games recently.

“I always work hard to have a chance to play and sometimes I play, sometimes I don’t play, but my work rate is always the same,” Eustaquio said on Monday. “I’m enjoying the process now because I’m playing, but if one day I’m not playing, I’m going to keep working hard.”

Eustaquio was born in Ontario, but moved to Portugal as a child. He developed through the Portuguese system and was a member of its national under-21 team.

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At the request of Canada’s head coach John Herdman, however, Eustaquio decided to play at the senior level for his native country. Since putting on the Canadian jersey in 2019, he hasn’t looked back and has become an icon in Ontario, especially within the Portuguese community.

“They’re excited,” Eustaquio said with a smile. “We’re having a good time, to be honest, thank goodness.”

  1. A member of the Canadian men's national soccer team, he trains at the MOL Soccer Academy in Dunajska Streda, Slovakia.  Canada will face Uruguay in Bratislava, Slovakia on September 27, 2022.

    Uruguay to provide litmus test for Canada ahead of 2022 FIFA World Cup

  2. Uruguayan Luis Suarez reacts while playing against Iran September 23, 2002.

    Star Power headlines Uruguay roster

GLOBAL ATTRACTION

It’s rare for a Canadian soccer player to be harassed by a group of children in another country, but Alphonso Davies was the case here on Monday.

A number of youth teams were training on the pitches adjacent to Canada’s at the MOL Football Academy, a sprawling, multimillion-dollar soccer complex located in Dunajska Streda, Slovakia, about 40 kilometers east of is from here.

When the youth teams finished, the players waited out Canada’s session and then gathered to meet Davies. The Edmonton product, now in his fourth season with Bayern Munich, agreed and traveled to meet and take pictures with the Slovak children.

Davies, 21, who has yet to speak to Canadian media who have traveled to attend the camp, will be in the lineup Tuesday against Uruguay.

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