Canada captain says World Cup team already having an impact back home

DOHA, Qatar — Finally at the World Cup, captain Atiba Hutchinson is getting to reap the rewards of after 19 years service in a Canadian shirt. And so is Canada.

"I've already seen it sparking a lot of interest in younger players — seven-, eight-year-olds, some in my family, teammates, children," the veteran midfielder said of Canada's return to the men's soccer showcase after a 36-year absence. "The interest that it's brought to our country is really special to see.

"I've been with the national team for a very long time and I've never see it get to this level. So it's great to see and I think it's going to continue to get bigger and bigger from here on out."

Hutchinson, who was 39 years 285 days old at the official start of the tournament, is the oldest outfield player at the World Cup. He is also the only Canadian player who was alive when Canada last made the World Cup in 1986.

Hutchinson said the 1994 World Cup in the U.S. was the first for him in realizing how big the event was.

"I was into that one. I followed it a lot and my team was Brazil and they ended up winning it," said the native of Brampton, Ont. "Just to see all the emotions and what it meant for countries, the fans in the stadium, around the stadium. It was special to see and that kind of sparked a very big interest in me, giving me that feeling of maybe one day playing in a World Cup."

That took time.

Hutchinson, Canada's all-time men's cap leader with 98, made his senior debut at 19 against the U.S. in January 2003.

Since 2013, he has plied his trade in Turkey where he captains Besiktas, whose fans treat him with reverence.

The six-foot-one midfielder is known as The Octopus, for his long legs and ability to hang on to the ball.

"Atiba is our best player," then-Canada coach Benito Floro said in 2014. "He is the best player in Besiktas."

Hutchinson worked his way up the ranks and through Europe, building his career carefully starting in Scandinavia with Osters and Helsingborg in Sweden and FC Copenhagen in Denmark.

He joined Dutch side PSV Eindhoven in 2010 before moving to Turkey.

His road to the World Cup was threatened by a bone bruise suffered in pre-season with Besiktas. But he returned to action earlier this month in a Turkish Cup game and played in Canada's 2-1 warmup win over Japan last week.

Coach John Herdman said his skipper was "brilliant" in the Japan game.

"He's in a good place," Herdman said.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 22, 2022.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press