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dated: 2022-11-20 13:46:58 .
The Italian men’s national team, the Azzurri (Blues), is one of the most successful and successful programs in soccer history.
Shockingly, the team failed to qualify for a second consecutive World Cup tournament in Qatar, leaving thousands of die-hard Azzurro fans in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) disappointed.
But Canada is only participating in the tournament for the second time this year, and many Italian Canadians say they are ready to support the Reds.
“For me there is no doubt, we are all in it [the Italian] The community is 100 percent behind this Canadian team,” said Marco Antonucci, who grew up in the GTA and played professionally for Toronto Italia in the Canadian National Soccer League in the 1990s.
“[They’re] one of the most exciting teams at the moment. Then we were very disappointed in the qualifications because we simply did not have the infrastructure. We didn’t have Excel programs. I mean, 1986 was an anomaly, but now, looking at Canada, it’s bright.”
Canada’s only other World Cup appearance was in Mexico in 1986. The Canadians did not make it out of the group stage, losing all three games and failing to score a single goal.
“I always said as a kid that if Canada could host the World Cup, I would support Canada,” said Chandler Nicolucci, who grew up in Woodbridge and has been an Italy fan since childhood.
“Honestly, not at all [Italian-] Canadians, but especially if you’re second or third generation, you should root for Canada. You can support Italy, no problem supporting two teams, but if they played against each other in the World Cup, you should stick with Canada and support Canada. I will end up staying in Canada, but I know it will be a betrayal to many friends.”
INTERNATIONAL SUCCESS OF ITALY
Italy has won the second most FIFA World Cups ever with four (tied with Germany), followed by Brazil, who have won five.
And since the Azzurri won the second and third editions of the World Cup in 1934 and 1938, the country has been crazy about football.
This passion spread throughout the Italian diaspora around the world, reaching large Canadian cities such as Toronto.
“Italians and football are a kind of mixture in one. “Football and culture are really one,” said Antonucci.
“There is disappointment in the Italian community. Eight years have passed and [there’s] a big disappointment, especially when you know they have a really strong team. To not qualify at this stage is heartbreaking and disappointing to say the least.”
Both Nicolucci and Antonucci say that one of the main reasons why Italy has such die-hard fans is that they have had so many good teams.
“The reason why I think that [Italian-Canadians] We are so attached to Italy that not only are we Italian, but we are notoriously good at sports,” said Nicolucci.
Italy’s last two World Cup titles came in 1982 and 2006. Both saw huge celebrations in Toronto, the biggest in Little Italy on College Street and Corso Italia on West St. Clair Avenue.
Nicolucci was in high school when the Azzurri beat France on penalties to win the 2006 World Cup. He watched the game in a crowded bar near West St. Clair and Dufferin streets.
“The joy of winning the 2006 World Cup on penalties and watching it happen was immense,” he said.
“I remember just taking one [Italian] The flag in the middle of St. Claire. I started waving and I had to be one of the first 10 people on the street. Then fans poured in from all corners like a mob or a zombie attack. It was simply surreal. People hung from light poles and climbed all the way to the top. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
Rocco Maangelo Jr. he is the owner of Café Diplomatico, a famous restaurant in Little Italy and a community center where fans have gathered to watch football for decades.
In 1982, his father owned an Italian cinema in St Clair and Dufferin where hundreds gathered to watch the broadcast of Italy v West Germany in the World Cup final.
“The main cinema had about 900 seats, and there was another cinema upstairs with 500 seats. I think I was about 10 or 11 and I worked with my dad when I was little. And I remember telling the ushers, ‘Guys, open all these exit doors,’ because the building was literally shaking,” Maangelo Jr. said.
“We closed St. Clair and Dufferin within 15 seconds of the game as 1,500 people poured out of that one hall. And then there were three days of celebration.”
FIFA WORLD CUP 2022
Café Diplomatico has branded itself as the ‘soccer headquarters’ of the World Cup and encourages fans of all national teams to come watch the matches.
But convincing fans to come out and cheer on Canada in the cold November and December will be no easy task. The tournament is usually held in the summer when people can watch the matches outside on the terraces.
In addition, the time difference between us and Qatar means that many games start in the morning, sometimes as early as 5am
Despite this, Maangelo Jr. expects fans to give their full support to Canada, adding that it is fully booked for all group stage games in Canada and plans to keep its indoor patio open.
“We have heaters, we have an enclosure and we have a roof. So we’re doing our best and we’ve seen during Covid that Canadians don’t particularly mind being outside even if it’s minus one or minus two. So I assume that the terrace will still be very crowded,” he said.
According to Maangel Jr., Torontonians of all ethnicities flock to Café Diplomatico to watch World Cup games, and this year will be no different. But for the first time in nearly 40 years, there will be a team that can support them all together.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of support for Canada and I think if, say, Portugal or England get knocked out early and Canada is still in the tournament, they’ll definitely be rooting for Canada,” he said.
Experts are divided on whether Canada will do well at this year’s tournament and whether it will pass the group stage and advance to the knockout round.
They are the worst team in their group, but many believe they have enough scoring opportunities to surprise opposing teams.
“I think every 90-minute game can go either way. One mistake and it’s game over. So I think 100 percent that we can get out of the group and go to the next round,” said Antonucci.
“In any game, we can eliminate any team participating in this tournament. We have firepower up there. I think we just need to tighten up the defense a little bit, but I’m secretly looking forward to this team.”
While Italy has missed out on two World Cups in a row, co-hosts Canada are guaranteed a spot at the next World Cup in 2026.
Assuming Italy can break their drought and return to the World Cup in four years, the loyalty of Canada’s Azzurro fans could face its first real test; if Canada and Italy faced each other.
“My heart is 100 percent with the Canadians as well as the Italians, but if they had to play each other — wow,” Antonucci said, laughing. “That would be a tough question, but I certainly love these two nations and both football communities.”
Canada’s first game at the 2022 World Cup is scheduled for Wednesday at 2 p.m. against world no. 2 Belgium.
Italy failed to qualify for the second consecutive World Cup. But their fans in GTA have a new team to root for
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