Families of Team Canada players prepare to cheer on their loved ones at the World Cup


This is the most common dream in the world.

From Jakarta to Rio de Janeiro, from Dakar to Dublin, from Tokyo to Tijuana, children are hitting balls on sandy pitches, dusty fairways or lush grounds in the hope of one day playing in the biggest sporting event in the world. planet.

But for the Canadian boys, the dream seemed too distant. Too bold. Canada was not a soccer nation. This country did not participate in the world championships.

Just eight years ago, Canada’s men’s team ranked 122nd in the FIFA rankings.

But to quote John Herdman, the country’s beloved coach, this is a new Canada.

Today, 26 Canadians are on the verge of realizing their childhood dreams. Those who helped them get to where they are today, well, they’re part of the dream too.

From Le Gardeur, Qc, to Qatar

Martin Piette fights back tears as he tries to express how much he loves his nephew, CF Montreal defensive midfielder Samuel Piette.

« Normally our idols are older than us, but my idol is Sam, » he said.

Samuel Piette kicks the ball away from Tanaka Ao of Japan during the international friendly match between Japan and Canada at Al-Maktoum Stadium on November 17, 2022 in Dubai. (Martin Dokoupil/Getty Images)

The large, close-knit Piette family watched closely, gathering at Stade Saputo in Montreal to watch the 28-year-old’s games.

The family always knew Samuel Piette had talent, but the thought of him going to the World Cup never crossed their minds.

Today, the 28-year-old has 66 appearances with Team Canada for the World Cup and hopes to win seven more before the end. If his family didn’t think of the World Cup when Samuel was young, he was definitely.

« When he was little he had a project at school ‘Where will you be in 2040?’ or something like that, » says his mother, Linda, from her home in Repentigny, a suburb of Montreal. « And Sam said ‘professional football player and play in the World Cup.' »

Piette’s father says Samuel’s confidence on the pitch has increased over the past few months.

« It looks like he’s taking more initiative in attack this year compared to last year. He’s trying longer passes and I think it went well, » said Stephane Piette.

The couple are in Qatar to watch Canada’s group stage matches. Samuel’s fiancée, their son and his stepfather are also there. The Piettes who remained will have at least three more reunions as they watch the matches together.

The new kid

While Piette spent years cementing his position with Team Canada decision makers, Ismael Koné burst onto the scene looking like he’d been shot down by a cannon.

The 20-year-old only made his professional debut in February, with his hometown team CF Montreal. A few weeks later, he wore a Team Canada jersey to a CONCACAF World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica.

If there was any doubt that Canada Soccer would take a risk with the youngster, his performance in the penultimate friendly against Bahrain on November 11 sealed his place in the squad.

Ismael Koné smiles after the goal with the hands.
Ismael Kone reacts after scoring against Orlando City SC during second half MLS playoff soccer action in Montreal October 16. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Koné scored the game’s first goal after a deft touch and a searing run. He showed the confidence of a seasoned veteran as he coolly whistled the ball into the top right corner for his first international goal.

« I think he took the game by the scruff of his neck with his confidence, » coach Herdman told TSN after the game.

« He doesn’t understand his talent. His talent is incredible. Incredible,” marveled Rocco Placentino, the man who spotted Koné at age 15 playing in the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce district of Montreal.

The Saint-Laurent Soccer Club sporting director always believed Koné could turn professional, but says watching him fight his way to Team Canada and the World Cup has been a dream, even if he doesn’t. wasn’t sure I could believe it.

The days and hours of waiting to see if Koné would get the call was stressful, at least for Placentino. Koné, Placentino explains, is too cold for stress.

« I’m like, ‘oh my God, maybe you’re playing a World Cup,’ and he was so sweet, so poised and maybe that’s why he’s where he is, » said Placentino.

A man smiles in front of a wall of panettones.
Rocco Placentino, the man who spotted Ismael Koné at the age of 15 playing in the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce district of Montreal. (Jay Turnbull/CBC Montreal)

Placentino cried when Koné’s place was confirmed. He predicts that one of the youngest men in the tournament will play a key role for Canada.

« For him, it’s just another game of football, » he said in disbelief.

Placentino communicates with Koné almost every day and will be in Qatar, with Koné’s mother, to watch Canada’s first two matches.

« Emotion ran through this house like crazy »

James Pantemis was a longshot to make the team. But when Maxime Crépeau got injured, the Kirkland, Que., native got the call.

« Emotion ran through this house like crazy, » said Nick Pantemis, James’ father.

Pantemis played a key role in CF Montreal’s best season in MLS, but his father has no illusions about his son’s role with the national team. The player will be placed as a substitute or third goalkeeper and is unlikely to get game action.

Nick Pantemis, who coached his son as he rose through the ranks in the West Island of Montreal, is in Qatar anyway with one of James’ cousins ​​to support the team.

“He took on the toughest job in sport [the keeper position] to avoid running on the pitch, » laughed Pantemis.

Two men hold a trophy on a soccer field.
James (left) and Nick (right) Pantemis celebrate CF Montreal’s victory in the 2021 Canadian Championship. (Submitted by Nick Pantemis)

If Canadian soccer fans thought that hoping for a World Cup appearance was far too ambitious, James Pantemis believed in it from the start.

In 2016, when James Pantemis was just 19, CBC asked about his dreams. He was succinct: “To be a professional soccer player and play in Montreal one day and hopefully represent Canada on the men’s side and take them to the World Cup.

For Pantemis to get that spot, something had to give. That something was Maxime Crépeau’s right leg.

The Los Angeles keeper’s bone broke after colliding with Philadelphia Union forward Cory Burke on a breakaway in overtime in the MLS Cup Final on November 5.

« I heard the noise and I knew right away it was over, » Crépeau said.

Crepeau slides feet first and goes shin to shin with another player.
Los Angeles FC goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau tries to stop Corey Burke at the end of a game against the Philadelphia Union. He broke his right leg after the impact. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty images)

The Candiac, Que., native was pretty much guaranteed to support goaltender Milan Borjan in the tournament.

His heroism saved what would have been an easy goal and his team went on to win on penalties. But soon after, he says he was mourning his missed opportunity.

Crépeau will be cheering from his home in Los Angeles, but it won’t be easy.

« I guarantee you the emotions will be there because I’ve been with these guys for a long time, and we sacrificed and…brought the country together when no one believed in us, » he said.

Crépeau promises to be ready for his next chance. He will be 32 when North America hosts the next World Cup in four years.

WATCH | Former national team player Amy Walsh on how the World Cup could change football here at home

Team Canada at the World Cup: How it could change soccer here

Amy Walsh is a former member of Canada’s National Women’s Soccer Team

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