Wave your flags: U of T soccer coach on the World Cup

Photo of World Cup fans in Russia
Football fans from across the globe gather at the official FIFA Fan Fest at Moscow State University to watch the first World Cup game between Russia and Saudi Arabia on Thursday (photo by Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images)

It happens every four years: Flags fly from cars and shop windows, and every so often fans glued to live broadcasts of the games in bars and cafés spill out on the streets to celebrate their home country’s victories.

Welcome to the World Cup, a tournament that plays to Toronto’s diversity.

With news breaking this week that North America will be hosting the 2026 World Cup, Jelena Damjanovic spoke to Anthony Capotosto, the University of Toronto's head soccer coach, about the significance of the tournament for the sport and his predictions for the winner.

What’s so special about the World Cup?

The World Cup is widely regarded as the biggest sporting event in the world. There will be a worldwide audience cheering on their respective teams. It’s special because it happens every four years and there is a lot of anticipation for this event among soccer enthusiasts.

Germany won the last World Cup, the fourth in its history and the first in 24 years. What teams do you think stand the biggest chance of winning the 2018 World Cup?

There is always a list a perennial favourites to win the World Cup, such as Germany, Brazil, Argentina and Spain. It will be interesting in 2018 as many teams have improved over the years, which will make for a very competitive field.

In your opinion, which is the strongest group of teams?

For me it would be Group D – Argentina, Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria.

Deutsche Welle ran an article that claims every World Cup has been won by a coach who is the same nationality as his team. What does nationality mean to the modern-day soccer player?

There is a great sense of pride for the players and staff to represent their country at the international level. Nationalism plays a big role at the World Cup as having success in the event could bring significant notoriety/benefits to a country from both a sporting and socio-economic perspective.

What do you make of Iceland and Panama qualifying for their first ever World Cup and Italy failing to qualify for the first time since 1958? Is this a sign of a new world order emerging in the world of soccer or just a fluke?

This is certainly not a fluke – it speaks to the enhancements that are being made worldwide to raise the profile of soccer and the investment countries are making in things like infrastructure, coach education and overall funding for the sport. Both Panama and Iceland have earned the right to be part of the 2018 World Cup.

How do you think the host Russia will perform?

It is always difficult for the host country as all eyes will be on them to make a significant run in the tournament. It will depend on how they are able to deal with the pressure of being the host and advancing past the group stage.

Who will you be rooting for?

Unfortunately, the team I support (Italy) is not in the tournament, so I am simply looking forward to watching as many games as possible and enjoying the tournament over the next four weeks.

It was announced this week that North America, including Canada, will host the 2026 World Cup after winning the vote over Morocco. What’s your take on that?

Having the World Cup come to Canada in 2026 represents a tremendous opportunity to grow the game in our country. You only need to look at what the 1994 World Cup did for the United States and how it influenced the game for a generation following the event. The hope is that there’s a similar impact here in Canada leading up to and after the tournament takes place. It’s a very exciting time to be involved in soccer in Canada and I look forward to seeing how things evolve over the next eight to 10 years.


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