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Alphonso Davies made Canadian soccer history
The 19-year-old rising star from Edmonton became the first Canadian international to win a UEFA Champions League title by helping Germany’s Bayern Munich to a 1-0 victory over Paris Saint-Germain in yesterday’s final. Calgary-born-and-raised Owen Hargreaves is the only other Canadian to play in (and win) club soccer’s most prestigious match. He won the Champions League final with Bayern in 2001 and Manchester United in ’08. But Hargreaves never played for Canada internationally, opting to represent England instead.
Davies, who was born in a refugee camp in Ghana to Liberian parents before moving to Canada when he was five, played for various Canadian youth national teams before moving up to the senior squad when he was only 16. Bayern bought him from Major League Soccer’s Vancouver Whitecaps two years ago, and he blossomed into a full-fledged star in stunningly short order this season. Attacking opposing defences with eye-popping speed and agility from his left-back position, Davies was named the German league’s rookie of the year. After playing a key role in Bayern’s run to the Champions League title — including this jaw-dropping run to set up a goal in the quarter-finals vs. Barcelona — Davies is considered one of the very best young players in the entire world. He might already be the best Canadian men’s player of all time.
You won’t have to wait long to see Davies back in action. Because the conclusion of the 2019-20 season was pushed back so much due to the pandemic, there’s only a short break until the start of the next one. Bayern has a German Cup match on Sept. 11, and it opens the new Bundesliga season on Sept. 18.
Three weeks after that, Davies will lead the Canadian national team into the first round of regional qualifying for the 2022 World Cup. Canada needs to win its group to advance, but it’s by far the top-ranked team in a weak set. Canada’s first match is Oct. 7 vs. Bermuda, then Oct. 11 vs. the Cayman Islands. The final two matches are in mid-November vs. Aruba and Suriname. If Canada advances, it’ll play a home-and-home set against the winner of Group E — likely Haiti, which is closer to Canada in the world rankings. The winner of that matchup advances to the final round to face the other two second-round winners and the top five teams in the region — Mexico, the U.S., Costa Rica, Jamaica and Honduras. The teams with the three best records qualify for the World Cup, and the fourth-place team earns another shot to make it via an intercontinental playoff.
Canada hasn’t qualified for the men’s World Cup since 1986, and it’s still a longshot for 2022. But with Davies and star 20-year-old striker Jonathan David leading the way, the future is bright and the present just got a lot more interesting.
All three Canadians left in the Women’s Champions League advanced. National-team defenders Ashley Lawrence (Paris Saint-Germain) and Kadeisha Buchanan (Lyon) both played every minute of their clubs’ quarter-final wins on Saturday. Jordyn Huitema (who, by the way, is dating Alphonso Davies) also plays for PSG but didn’t get off the bench. The three will square off in Wednesday’s semifinal between PSG and Lyon, so there’s guaranteed to be either one or two Canadians in Sunday’s final.
The Raptors are about to face a much bigger challenge. The defending NBA champs swept a playoff series for the first time in franchise history yesterday, burying the undermanned and overmatched Brooklyn Nets 150-122. Toronto’s point total in Game 4 was a team record, and its bench players set an NBA record by scoring 100 points. The going will get tougher in the second round against the Boston Celtics, who just completed their own sweep of Philadelphia. Toronto finished five games higher in the regular-season standings, but Boston had the slightly better point differential and went 3-1 in head-to-head matchups. Also, Kyle Lowry’s health is uncertain after he left yesterday’s game in the first quarter. The Raptors announced today that he has a sprained ankle but didn’t say anything about his status for Game 1, which is Thursday at 6:30 p.m. ET. Read about how Raptors fans are keeping the spirit of “Jurassic Park” alive with drive-in versions of the outdoor viewing parties in this story by CBC Sports’ Devin Heroux.
Canadian Jamal Murray had a monster playoff game — but it went for naught. The Denver Nuggets guard scored a career-high 50 points last night. But he got outduelled by Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, who dropped 51 to lead the Jazz to a 129-127 win that gave them a 3-1 series lead. It was Mitchell’s second time reaching 50 points already in this year’s playoffs. Only Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson and Wilt Chamberlain have hit that mark twice in a single post-season.
Luka Doncic is having his breakthrough moment. The 21-year-old Slovenian guard has looked like a star since arriving in the NBA two years ago. The third pick in the 2018 draft (ouch, Phoenix and Sacramento, and double-ouch Atlanta, which picked him and immediately traded him to Dallas), Doncic won rookie of the year in 2018-19 and finished sixth in the league in scoring this season. Now he’s putting on a show in his first playoffs. Doncic scored 42 points in Game 1, and yesterday he hit the game-winning buzzer-beater from three to finish with 43. That shot pulled Dallas even at 2-2 with the heavily favoured L.A. Clippers. It’s also the play we might look back on as a star-is-born moment if Doncic goes on to bigger and better things, which seems like a lock at this point. Game 5 is Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET. With Doncic and L.A.’s Kawhi Leonard both at the top of their games right now, that’s a must-watch for basketball fans.
The Women’s British Open turned into a sports movie. Kevin Costner’s character in Tin Cup has nothing on Sophia Popov. Heading into the first women’s golf major of the year, the 27-year-old German was ranked 304th in the world and had zero victories outside of the mini-tours. In fact, she didn’t even have an LPGA Tour card. She was caddying in a tournament three weeks ago as she tried to get her career on track after battling health problems. But those days are behind Popov after her life-changing, two-stroke win at Royal Troon earned her a five-year tour pass and put a $675K US cheque in her pocket — more than five times her previous career earnings (no wonder she was in tears on the last hole). Canadian veteran Alena Sharp tied for 22nd. Canadian star Brooke Henderson, who was ranked seventh in the world, missed the cut. Read more about Popov’s miraculous victory here.
Dustin Johnson won the PGA playoff opener in insanely dominating fashion. Paulina Gretzky’s other half took over the lead by firing a second-round 60 and did not slow down en route to finishing an incredible 30 under par for an equally incredible 11-shot win. The victory propelled DJ into the No. 1 spot in the world rankings and also shot him up from 15th to first in the FedExCup playoff standings. All four Canadians in the playoffs advanced to this week’s tournament, the BMW Championship, which is only for the top 70 in the standings. But they have some work to do to climb into the top 30 and qualify for the season-ending Tour Championship on Labour Day weekend. Mackenzie Hughes heads into the BMW ranked 36th, Nick Taylor is 40th, Adam Hadwin 49th and Corey Conners 54th. Tiger Woods is 57th. Read more about Johnson’s impressive win here.
Canada’s chances of ending the Stanley Cup drought don’t look so hot. The Vancouver Canucks were the only Canadian-based team to reach the second round of the NHL playoffs, and they got blown out 5-0 in Game 1 by Vegas. Montreal was the last Canadian team to win the Cup, in 1993, and the streak seems likely to reach 27 years. Both of tonight’s games are all-U.S. matchups: the Islanders and Philadelphia play their opener at 7 p.m. ET, followed by Dallas vs. Colorado at 9:45 p.m. ET.
The Tokyo Paralympic Games are exactly one year away. Again. Maybe. Same as with the Olympics a month before it, it’s tough to even guess whether the pandemic will allow for this event to open on Aug. 24, 2021 — a year after its original slot. If it does, about 150 Canadian athletes are expected to compete in 19 of the 22 sports on the program. Their collective goal will be to top the 29 medals (including eight gold) the Canadian team won at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio. In the meantime, Canadian standouts like wheelchair racer Brent Lakatos and swimmer Aurelie Rivard continue to train and hope for the best. As CBC Sports’ Scott Russell writes, it’s a less-than-ideal situation for Paralympians, but they’re more accustomed than most to overcoming challenges. Read Scott’s piece on how the Canadian team is preparing for Tokyo here. You can also relive some of the best performances from past Games by watching the Paralympic Super Series Rewind — a 10-episode show launching today on the CBC Gem streaming service, CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app. Get more details and watch it here.
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