The thrill of seeing Canada at the World Cup has inspired Ross County pair Victor Loturi and William Akio to break into their national team setup.
Canada are making a long-awaited appearance at this year’s finals in Qatar, and kick off their tournament campaign against Belgium on Wednesday night.
It is the nation’s first World Cup since they reached the 1986 finals in Mexico – the only time they had previously qualified for the competition.
Brothers Loturi and Akio both joined the Staggies during the summer.
Midfielder Loturi signed on a three-year deal from Cavalry FC, where he previously played alongside defender Joel Waterman who is among Canada’s 26-man squad.
He is also friends with defender Sam Adekugbe, having played alongside his brother Elijah at his former club.
Midfielder says national team breakthrough has become ‘believable’
Loturi, who has recently broken into Malky Mackay’s starting line-up at County, says the personal connection gives him belief he can force his way into John Herdman’s squad.
He said: “It’s crazy – two of our friends are at the World Cup. They are Joel Waterman who I played with, and my ex team-mate’s brother is Sam Adekugbe.
“We are supporting them and hoping they do well.
— Canada Soccer (@CanadaSoccerEN) November 20, 2022
“Seeing it happening for those guys especially shows that we can actually do it. We have just got to keep working.
“It’s actually kind of mad to think about it because three or four years ago we weren’t even playing at a professional level, but now we are so much closer to it which makes it so much more believable.”
Also among Canada’s World Cup pool is St Johnstone midfielder David Wotherspoon, who is one of several current Scottish Premiership based players competing at the finals.
That gives Loturi, who is 21, all the more incentive to impress in the Scottish top flight.
He added: “I used to watch David Wotherspoon two or three years ago, I remember when he was called up to the squads.
“Scott Arfield was another one, so there are people in this league that are going.
“Australia also have a few players who we have played against, which shows it’s possible.”
Akio still aims for Canada breakthrough despite South Sudan caps
Although forward Akio has already gained international recognition with South Sudan, where his parents are from, he remains eligible to represent Canada.
Having played his entire senior career in Canada, prior to leaving Valour FC for the Staggies in the summer, Akio insists a call-up would come as a proud moment.
The 24-year-old added: “I have two caps in friendly matches with South Sudan but I’m not cap-tied, so I could still play for Canada.
“It would obviously be great to play for Canada. For all the people that supported me during my journey, it would give them a little treat.”
Akio says Canada’s qualification for the finals is a mark of how far the sport has come in the country.
He added: “When we grew up in Canada we weren’t really thinking about being at a World Cup.
“The fact it’s happening so fast, it would mean a lot for these boys to make it to the next stages.
“I do think it’s possible. We’ve got a lot of good players.
“I think it will help Canada in general if the soccer culture keeps growing.
“The league only started in 2019, so it wasn’t even that long ago.
“Before then, there was nothing. You had to just get picked up, and sent over to Europe or elsewhere in North America.
“That’s kind of how you made it. I took the college route to get here, and Victor also did really well for himself.
“It has grown a lot and it’s going to keep growing, so I’m excited.”