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Canadian men still chasing history in their final outing at the World Cup


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DOHA, Qatar — With one game remaining, Canada is still chasing history at the World Cup. But a motivated Morocco stands in its way of a first-ever positive result at the men’s soccer showcase Thursday.

For coach John Herdman, the 41st-ranked Canadians ticked off one box in a “fearless” performance in their tournament opener, pushing No. 2 Belgium to the limit in a 1-0 loss. And Alphonso Davies’ goal 68 seconds into the match against No. 12 Croatia ended Canada’s scoring drought at the tournament, albeit in what turned out to be a 4-1 defeat.

Plenty of other targets remain in what will be the Canadians’ last World Cup outing until 2026, when Canada co-hosts an expanded 48-team tournament.

Herdman listed them off Wednesday: first team to keep a clean sheet, first to get a result, first to get a win.

“We’ve missed out on the first team to advance from a World Cup group stage but we haven’t been here for 36 years,” Herdman told the pre-match news conference. “You play Belgium, Croatia. The first time you’ve played top, top teams in over a decade and it’s on the world stage to get out of a group stage.

“We believe those goals are still achievable,” he added.

On Tuesday, Herdman showed players and staff video of fans back home celebrating Davies’ historic goal Sunday as the 22-year-old from Edmonton joined Helen Stoumbos in the Canada Soccer record book. Stoumbos scored Canada’s first goal at the Women’s World Cup, in the 87th minute of a 3-2 loss to England in June 1995.

For the Canada coach, the Davies goal is a moment to remember — and inspire.

“They got to see what we really came here for, which was to give Canada that moment,” Herdman, referencing the celebrations back home, said of his players. “And to be proud, to be proud of moments like that. Because there’s more to come.”

Canada lost three straight and went home in its only other trip to the tournament, in Mexico in 1986.

“We made a big step here,” said Herdman citing praise from Belgian assistant coach Thierry Henry after the opening match.

Herdman said Henry, a former star forward who went on to coach Montreal’s MLS team, said the Belgians should have lost the match. The Canada coach also noted the sight of the Croatia players celebrating having beaten Canada.

“These are what we came (here) to do … to try and compete against the best in the world. And I think we put our best foot forward to compete,” he said.

“We had great moments against Belgium and Croatia … football moments that our country can be proud of,” he added.

Morocco, ranked 22nd in the world, can still extend its World Cup moment.

“Our players want to make history and they’re going to give 110 per cent to ensure the Moroccan population is happy,” Morocco coach Walid Regragui said through an interpreter.

He knows a draw at the 44,400-capacity Al Thumama Stadium will be enough to see Morocco finish runner-up in Group F, as will a Belgium loss to Croatia in the group’s other final fixture, while a win could see it finish atop the pool.

“What we want is to actually be masters of our destiny without having to calculate, to rely on other squads’ results,” Regragui said.

The Moroccans currently sit second in the group, behind Croatia on goal difference with both teams at 1-0-1. Belgium is third on three points at 1-1-0 with Canada yet to register a point at 0-2-0.

After starting the tournament on a high, albeit in defeat, the Canadians look Thursday to reinforce the message that they belong on the world stage.

“Everybody wants to make history this last game,” said Canadian midfielder Jonathan Osorio. “That’s what we’re focused on. We’ve had a good showing in the first two games. But I think in football people always remember the last game that you played the most and so we’re looking forward to ending this tournament on a high.”

Regragui called it a very difficult match against “a team with nothing to lose.”

Regragui, who answered questions in French, Arabic and English, was treated like a rock star at the earlier Morocco news conference, signing T-shirts and posing for selfies.

But his feet clearly remain on the ground

“Everything’s going well,” he said. “Let’s see if I’ll still be a good coach (Thursday).”

The Atlas Lions look to repeat their success of 1986 when they became the first African side to reach the knockout round — losing 1-0 to eventual runner-up West Germany after topping a group that included England, Poland and Portugal.

Morocco failed to advance four years ago in Russia, losing to Iran and Portugal and tying Spain.

Morocco opened its campaign here by drawing Croatia 0-0 before upsetting Belgium 2-0 for just its third win in 18 career games (3-9-6) at the World Cup.

Thursday marks Canada’s first-ever World Cup match against a non-European team.

Herdman said he had one injury concern in the midfield, without identifying the player. Stephen Eustaquio had to leave the Croatia game at halftime due to a hamstring injury he has been carrying.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 30, 2022

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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Quebec says only people at risk who haven’t had COVID-19 should get booster dose

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Only people who are considered at risk for severe COVID-19 — and who haven’t already been infected — need to get a booster dose, Quebec’s public health director said Thursday.

The vast majority of Quebecers have hybrid immunity — protection through vaccination and through a SARS-CoV-2 infection — making regular boosters unnecessary, at least for this winter and spring, Dr. Luc Boileau told reporters.

“People with hybrid immunity … have a very good protection against a severe form of the illness,” Boileau said. “And this immunity lasts for a long enough time that we can propose changes.”

Those who have been vaccinated but haven’t contracted the virus are also protected against severe COVID-19, he said, but their immunity “has a tendency to drop with time.”

Quebec’s vaccination committee decided to focus the province’s immunization policy on preventing hospitalizations and deaths, he said. People who are 60 and older or who have chronic illnesses, health workers, pregnant women and those who live in isolated regions are among the people who should get a booster every six months — but only if they have never caught the virus, Boileau said.

Dr. Caroline Quach-Thanh, chairperson of Quebec immunization committee, said the data shows that people already vaccinated for COVID-19 who have contracted the virus “maintain their protection.”

“Adding a dose doesn’t add a lot protection for severe (illness),” she said.

Health officials estimate that more than three-quarters of Quebecers under 60 have had COVID-19 over the past three years, while about half of those over 60 have caught the virus.

Boileau said only people who are immunocompromised should continue getting boosters even if they’ve been infected, “because their immunity could be affected by their condition.”

Before Thursday’s announcement, boosters were recommended for all people considered at risk of severe COVID-19. Boileau said COVID-19 vaccines will remain available to anyone who wants one. “We won’t refuse anyone,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2023.

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Senate passes Liberals’ controversial online streaming act with a dozen amendments

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By Mickey Djuric in Ottawa

Big tech companies that offer online streaming services could soon be required to contribute to Canadian content as a controversial Liberal bill gets one step closer to becoming law.

The Senate has passed the online streaming act known as Bill C-11 with a dozen amendments following a lengthy study by senators.

The bill would update Canada’s broadcasting rules to reflect online streaming giants such as YouTube, Netflix and Spotify, and require them to contribute to Canadian content and make it accessible to users in Canada — or face steep penalties.

Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez says he hopes the House of Commons will pass the bill next week after it reviews the Senate’s changes.

Senators made amendments intended to protect user-generated content and highlight the promotion of Indigenous languages and Black content creators.

They also included a change that would prohibit CBC from producing sponsored content, and another that would require companies to verify users’ ages before they access sexually-explicit material.

Rodriguez said Thursday that the Liberal government would not accept all of the Senate’s recommendations, but he didn’t say which ones he disagrees with.

“We’ll see when the bill comes back. There are amendments that have zero impact on the bill. And others that do, and those, we will not accept them,” the minister said Thursday during a Canadian Media Producers Association panel.

The Senate also removed a clause in the bill that Sen. Paula Simons described as giving “extraordinary new powers to the government to make political decisions about things.”

Ian Scott, the former chair of Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, had told a Senate committee that some provisions in the bill did move the balance point “slightly closer to lessening the independence” of the regulator — though he insisted that it would remain independent.

The CRTC, now under the leadership of Vicky Eatrides, will be tasked with enforcing the bill’s provisions.

The Senate passed the bill on the anniversary of its introduction in the House of Commons.

Between the House of Commons and Senate, there have been approximately 218 witnesses, 43 meetings, 119 briefs and 73 proposed amendments, said Rodriguez.

“It’s the longest bill,” he said.

The proposed law has come under intense scrutiny amid accusations from companies and critics who said it left too much room for government control over user-generated content and social-media algorithms.

Rodriguez said tech giants can get creative with ways they promote Canadian content, such as with billboards, advertising or, if they so choose, tweaks to their algorithms.

The bill has also caught the attention of the United States. Its embassy in Ottawa recently said that it is holding consultations with U.S. companies that it is concerned could face discrimination if the bill passes.

Last week, two U.S. senators called for a trade crackdown on Canada over Bill C-11, saying that the prospective law flouts trade agreements.

“I’m not worried, because we think it complies with trade obligations,” Rodriguez said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2023.

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