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Alphonso Davies' inspiring journey to the World Cup

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We have a World Cup win this morning. For the first time ever, Japan has defeated Germany. Japan came from behind to make the final score 2-1. Later today, what many might consider another surprise. The Canadian mens national team is going to face off against Belgium. It's Canada's first World Cup match in 36 years. The Canadians have new coaches and star players, including the charismatic face of Canadian soccer, Alphonso Davies. Reporter Emma Jacobs has the story.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALPHONSO DAVIES: Aw, we're through. Aw, we're through. Aw, it's over.

EMMA JACOBS, BYLINE: This was the moment 22-year-old Alphonso Davies found out that he was going to take part in one of the biggest sporting events in the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAVIES: Oh, my God (laughter). Yes.

JACOBS: Off the pitch due to illness, he livestreamed himself watching the critical qualifying match...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAVIES: Oh, my God.

JACOBS: ...And broke down as it became clear Canada was headed for the World Cup.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAVIES: I'm Alphonso Davies, and I play football.

JACOBS: Davies is undoubtedly Canada's star - not just a world-class player, but a massive marketing and social media presence and one of the faces of the successful United States, Mexico and Canada World Cup 2026 bid.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAVIES: The people of North America have always welcomed me. If given the opportunity, I know they'll welcome you.

JACOBS: Davies was born in a refugee camp in Ghana. His parents had fled a brutal civil war in nearby Liberia.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAVIES: But when I was 5 years old, a country called Canada welcomed us in, and the boys on the football team made me feel at home.

JACOBS: Davies was only 11 when Marco Bossio first saw him play.

MARCO BOSSIO: We're just at the field here. I'm just stepping away from the pitch.

JACOBS: Bossio coaches soccer at a Catholic junior high school in Edmonton. Scouting for new players, he says Davies stood out immediately.

BOSSIO: He had this amazing talent and skill that was just off the charts. The way he would move around the field and his ability to control the ball just stood out at that age.

JACOBS: Davies recorded this short interview soon after joining Bossio's team.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BOSSIO: What is your goal as a player?

DAVIES: My goal is to play, to reach professional level and probably play with some of the pros.

JACOBS: And he was as good as his word. At just 15, he signed a contract with Major League Soccer's Vancouver Whitecaps. Then in 2017, he became a Canadian citizen, which meant he could play for Canada's national team. Two years later, he joined one of the biggest clubs in the world, Bayern Munich in Germany.

(CHEERING)

JACOBS: Davies' success at the highest level of the sport and his team's World Cup appearance have made an impression on others. Under a giant inflatable dome just outside Montreal, a group of players in Canada's Premier League gathered for a friendly match.

MATTHEW CATAVOLO: Yeah, he's incredibly fast.

JACOBS: 19-year-old Matthew Catavolo will be up early to watch all of Canada's games.

CATAVOLO: It's been too long, you know - 36 years. And I'm happy that these guys have changed that for us.

JACOBS: After making the roster for the World Cup team earlier this month, Davies tweeted, quote, "A kid born in a refugee camp wasn't supposed to make it, but here we are going to the World Cup. Don't let no one tell you that your dreams are unrealistic." For NPR News, I'm Emma Jacobs in Montreal. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emma Jacobs