As the Azzurri fails to qualify, Toronto’s Little Italy anticipates quiet World Cup
Italy's national soccer team has failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1958, and some local businesses will likely face a leaner summer than expected.
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During major soccer championships, Toronto’s Little Italy tends to carry a carnival atmosphere — but things will be far more subdued next summer now that the Azzurri’s 2018 World Cup hopes have been dashed by Sweden.
For locals, the heartbreak of seeing their team lose out on qualification for the first time since 1958 is compounded by the effect it will have on their businesses over a full month from June into July, as world soccer's elite descend on Russia.
“It’ll be like pasta without the cheese,” said Lenny Lombardi, chair of the Little Italy BIA, on Tuesday. He figured most people back in Italy “probably haven’t gotten out of bed yet,” such was the shock of Monday’s result.
Italy won the World Cup in 2006 — with mayhem ensuing in Little Italy and along St. Clair Avenue W. — and reached the deciding game of the European Championships in 2012. Not having the team on the biggest stage will feel strange, even though their last two World Cup outings were underwhelming.
“When the World Cup comes around we see an increase in our traffic 100 per cent; it just creates such a great atmosphere,” Lombardi said, adding local businesses will have to put on a brave face and try to draw the crowds in other ways.
“We’re not going to change strategy,” he said. “College Street is still going to be soccer central, but without the Azzurri, a lot of people will be lost. We’re not going to be able to run up and down the streets and cheer them on.”
Café Diplomatico on College Street is the Italian team’s de-facto Toronto home, and co-owner Rocco Mastrangelo Jr. was struggling to wrap his head around things on Tuesday.
“I’m still in shock,” Mastrangelo said. “As a business owner, it’s disappointing, but we’re known as a soccer HQ and nations unite to watch the games, so I still feel it’ll be successful."
With as many as eight TVs and a 15-foot video wall on the back patio, Mastrangelo's soccer tournament promotions have, at times, even extended to neighbouring properties.
Things will be decidedly slower next summer, but he’s hopeful fans of the 32 teams who have qualified — Mexico and Portugal among them — will make up for Italy’s absence.
“Not having Italy there definitely hurts personally, as well as a little bit in the pocket,” he said.