Soccer fans are glued to their screens in bars, parks and living rooms across Canada, watching Croatia take on France in the World Cup final.
It’s the first ever final for the Croatians, while France is there for the third time and went into the match as the betting favourite.
In Montreal, fans wrapped in French flags erupted into cheers and sang the country’s national anthem as they celebrated their team’s first goal outside bar l’Barouf.
A two-storey-tall French flag covered the front of the building in the Plateau-Mont Royal, which is home to many of the city’s approximately 57,000 French nationals.
Fans waved flags, honked horns and cheered their team with calls of “Allez les Bleus” as police tried to keep the elated crowd from spilling onto the street.
The mood was equally jubilant in Mississauga where fans packed the Croatian Parish Park.
Some set off sparklers and red flares as their team scored its first goal, about half an hour into the match.
The Toronto area is home to as many as 10,000 people whose first language is Croatian.
“Croatia isn’t a big country, but everyone follows the World Cup. Millions of people are going to watch the final all around the world,” said Ivan Kulis.
“So for a small country like Croatia to be in the finals, it’s something very big in history.”
Although Croatia came third in the 1998 tournament – just seven years after the country declared independence from Yugoslavia – this is “one step bigger,” Kulis said.
Mississauga has a proud, tight-knit Croatian-Canadian community, said Erica Zlomislic, who works with the Croatian Heritage Association.
“I watch these games and I get teary-eyed,” she said. “When you’re under a foreign occupier, it toughens you. These guys are patriots.”
She said what makes this year’s team great is their leadership, faith and hard work along with their coach, Zlatko Dalic, who’s expertise has taken them a long way.
It’s by coincidence that today is the annual Croatian pilgrimage to the Martyr’s Shrine in Midland, Ont., about a two-hour drive north of Toronto. Zlomislic, 47, said she will be going to that before watching the game.
“We’ll just go and pray for the team,” she said. “Even if they get a silver, I don’t think people will be disappointed.”
“It’s good promotion for the country and the community, because we don’t have to explain who we are anymore.”
Canada, of course, did not have a team in this year’s tournament – or in any World Cup other than 1986, when it finished in last place and did not score a goal.
But soccer-mad Canadians have been following along with every goal, save and embellished foul of the tournament.