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FIFA fever hits Cochrane’s local soccer community

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Director of the Cochrane Wolves Football Club, Scott Ansel, said with the return of the World Cup, excitement for the sport is at an all-time high and the interest among young Canadians to join soccer programs around the country is growing faster than ever.

For the first time in 36 years, Canada has entered the soccer world’s biggest stage with their appearance at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and many local teams in Cochrane are both excited and cautious about their prospects.

With Canadian superstars including Alphonso Davies and Stephen Eustáquio on the radars of aspiring local players, interest in the World Cup for local teams in Cochrane is at an all time high.

Canada played their first game against Belgium as part of Group F Nov. 23. Despite a valiant effort, the Canadians lost 1-0, remaining goalless at the World Cup.

Director of the Cochrane Wolves Football Club, Scott Ansel, said with the return of the World Cup, excitement for the sport is at an all-time high and the interest among young Canadians to join soccer programs around the country is growing faster than ever.

“I’ve seen an incredible difference in mindset and soccer culture building here,” Ansel said. “And the club from where it was a year ago to where it is today, just a genuine excitement of the kids, and parents about soccer in general, it feels like a different place from a year ago.”

Like any major competition on the international stage, he said representation from your country sparks an interest in any aspiring athlete.

“After you see a tournament like this and kids will be aspiring to be those players,” Ansel said. “The female [Canadian team], has always been strong for Canada, but the men are catching up. So hopefully it will spark some general excitement for the players here.”

Don Ross, president of the Cochrane Rangers Soccer Club, echoed the statements made by Ansel as he acknowledged that the sport is growing. He argued that Canada’s return to the World Cup has been a long time coming.

“I think it’s a reflection of how the sport is growing in Canada right down to the grassroots, and we are going to see a lot shorter gaps between our World Cup presences in the future,” Ross predicted.

With the World Cup taking place in North America in 2026, (co-hosted by Canada, the US, and Mexico) he anticipates that Canada will be secured a spot as a host nation, meaning they won’t need to qualify. With the next generation of players preparing to take to the world stage, he is excited to see a stronger Canadian national team.

Notably, the 2022 World Cup is taking place in Qatar, where there have been several humanitarian-related controversies surrounding the event. Ross said he strongly disagrees with FIFA’s choice to award the hosting of the tournament to Qatar, where homosexuality is still illegal and thousands of migrant workers have reportedly died while constructing the eight stadiums built solely for this year’s tournament.

“My position with the Rangers board, it has always been my philosophy that our main goal is to be as inclusive as we possibly can to promote the sport and gain as many participants as we can,” Ross said. “It’s really a beautiful game and we want to encourage everyone to get involved.”

Captain of the Cochrane High School girls’ soccer team, Hannah Tas, said the excitement from the momentous event can be found even in the school’s hallways and classrooms.

“Everyone has been talking about soccer and [yesterday] the Belgium-Canada game was played in our learning commons during lunch,” Tas said. “It’s really neat to see.”

Even with her work as a grassroots soccer coach at Spray Lakes, Tas said her goal this week is to teach the kids about the different teams playing in the World Cup to inspire future athletes.

“Seeing people like them on TV, they may realize that it’s possible for them too,” Tas said. “If that’s what they want to do, play on the national Canadian team and win a gold medal.

“Or even just prove that Canada is good at other things other than hockey, and that they have a chance for a future in it.”

Although she can’t see Canada reaching the top pinnacle of the world’s most popular sport in the near future, that won’t stop Tas from rooting for them anyway.

According to their coach, John Herdman, the team is ‘a band of unselfish brothers who play for each other and their country.’ There’s nothing more to ask, really,” Tas said.

Although Canada lost narrowly to Belgium yesterday, Tas believes the players can make it past the group stage. She looks forward to their matches against Croatia (Sunday) and Morocco (next Thursday).

But she admitted there has been plenty of controversy and criticism regarding the World Cup this year.

“I know the idea is to keep sports and politics separate, but they are attached no matter what,” Tas said. “People have died unjustly for these players to be able to come to Qatar, not to mention the women’s and LGBTQIA+ rights simply don’t exist there.”

Tas said if she were in the same position as Canada Soccer, it would be a difficult decision that the current players are possibly facing.

“I would want to go obviously, because my whole life has probably been geared towards this moment, but I would feel incredibly guilty too,” Tas said. “I have no answers and don’t know the whole truth, but we can’t deny what is happening there either way.”

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