By Tyler Griffin, The Canadian Press
TORONTO — Excitement and jubilation after Canada scored its first-ever goal at the Men’s World Cup gave way to dismay after Croatia came back with a string of goals to end the team’s hopes of reaching the tournament’s knockout round.
Fans initially screamed, jumped out of their seats and embraced each other at a sold-out watch party in downtown Toronto Sunday as Alphonso Davies scored the historic goal.
The star winger and Bayern Munich player headed the ball home to give Canada an initial 1-0 lead over Croatia shortly after the first minute of the do-or-die game. Davies’ teammates mobbed the 22-year-old from Edmonton by the corner flag and the entire country celebrated.
Nearly a hundred fans at the west-end viewing, most sporting Canada’s red and white colours, cheered again during replays of the goal, some shaking their head in disbelief. But the momentum fell flat and fans watched quietly after Croatia struck back with four consecutive goals to win 4-1.
“It is a bit disappointing but I’m proud of the team regardless. They’ve just got to make the most of it, have fun with it,” said Canada fan and former soccer player Dominic Dike. “Everybody’s proud, the whole country’s proud.”
Dike called the squad’s strong performance and Davies’s goal a “statement” that shows the world Canada can compete in the sport.
“The whole game was a learning experience and it’s only going to grow from here,” he said, noting he’ll continue to cheer for Canada in this World Cup and beyond.
Canada fan Tad Kitaba said he was thrilled by the lone goal he described as historic, adding he couldn’t believe the enthusiasm and camaraderie in the room when it happened.
“These are young players and they don’t have the world stage experience,” said Kitaba. “I’m not disappointed that we lost… they’ll move forward and they’re going to make it next time around.”
Matthew Dicker said Davies’s goal “instantly became a Canadian heritage moment.”
“It feels about as good as any other [Canadian] sporting moment,” he said, adding the goal may be remembered as a pivotal occasion for soccer in Canada. He said the feeling in the room was unforgettable to see people celebrating soccer in Toronto on such a large scale.
The Canadians came into the contest needing at least a point to maintain their hope of advancing out of the group stage. Croatia also needed a win after tying Morocco 0-0 in its opening match.
The Canadians will go home from Qatar after wrapping up tournament play Thursday against Morocco, where they will hope to leave on a winning note. The men did not score or secure a point in Wednesday’s 1-0 loss to Belgium, failing to convert a slew of chances despite shining in their first game at the international soccer showcase in 36 years.
The national squad was unable to score or secure a point in its first trip to the tournament in 1986, exiting after three first-round losses in Mexico.
Lauren Wharton, a soccer player at Toronto’s Central Technical School, said it felt great to watch the game alongside only passionate Canadian fans.
“Honestly I wanted to cry,” Wharton said, reacting to the goal. “I’m happy that [Davies] got it, … It just felt right that it was him to score.”
It looked like Davies was going to end Canada’s World Cup scoring drought in its opener against Belgium Wednesday, but his penalty kick was saved by the Belgian goalkeeper.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford congratulated Davies on Twitter for his goal, saying history had been made.
The crowd erupted in cheers at Montreal’s Burgundy Lion pub when Davies put Canada on the board, though the mood shifted after Croatia’s comeback.
Stathi Fokas said she was “devastated” by the loss but ultimately happy to be sharing the “proud moment” with her friends.
“It really sucked because I really did not expect for so many goals to be conceded,” said Adi Bikkani, another fan. “[Canada] did not control the game enough.”
Attendee Nancy Cholette chose to focus on Davies’ very emotional” goal.
“I have been following soccer for as long as I can remember and just to think that we scored, and it was ‘Phonsie’ that scored, it was amazing,” she said. “I had tears in my eyes.”
— With files from Marisela Amador in Montreal.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.