Calgary’s Adekugbe family excited for World Cup of Soccer journey

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The Adekugbes intend on being heard all the way from Qatar.

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Loud and proud.

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Cheering on their son, Sam, and backing Canada with patriotic song.

And, of course, living up to their motto of being ‘Adekugbe Strong’ at the World Cup of Soccer.

“We are going to be the loudest cheering family there,” insisted the matriarch of the Calgary family, Dee. 

“Trust me.”

Just hours after learning Sam Adekugbe — the oldest of five kids to Dee and Ben — had been named to Canada’s entry at the World Cup, the family was in high spirits and bubbling with excitement at the upcoming once-in-a-lifetime journey together halfway around the globe.

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With the World Cup and Canada’s three round-robin games spread over nine days, the family trip — with travel to the Middle Eastern country some 30 hours in the offing — will be a costly one.

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“You can say that again,” said Ben, with a fatherly smile.

“But it’s worth it,” Dee interjected. “We’ll be there for all the games — every single game that Canada plays.”

Even those beyond the preliminary games should their son and Canada find a way out of Group F.

“We’ll stay for those, too,” added middle sibling Debbie. “We’re all pretty pumped — really excited to see him play. This is really like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so we’re all just over the moon.”

Just like most footie-frenzied Canadians these days.

After an agonizing 36-year wait, our nation is finally back in the World Cup, and the Adekugbes — being a football family — are oh-so fired up for Sam and Canada.

And so very proud.

“Absolutely,” Ben said. “If you asked me a few years back — even when they were young — that our children would just play high-school football, I’d be happy. So this is just way beyond that. As a dad and as a football person, I keep pinching myself. When they’re talking in the media about Sam, my wife and I keep forgetting that they’re talking about our own kid. It’s just crazy … beyond all of our wildest dreams. 

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“We’re equally proud of all our kids — Sam, Elijah, Debbie, Abigail, Ruth — but Sam seems to be the highlight right now.”

Indeed, he’s the focus after being one of seven defenders announced Sunday to Canada’s roster.

The 27-year-old Calgarian and current Turkish club star (Hatayspor) joins former Cavalry FC defender Joel Waterman (CF Montreal), Steven Vitoria (Chaves), Alistair Johnston (CF Montreal), Richie Laryea (Nottingham Forest/Toronto FC on loan), Kamal Miller (CF Montreal) and Derek Cornelius (Panetolikos) in patrolling Canada’s own zone and helping protect the net.

“I am very, very proud,” said Dee with a grand grin. “I’m extremely proud of him. All his hard work has paid off. He has worked so hard to get here. And we are so grateful to God that we can see the results of it. He’s our hero. He just displays where hard work can get you.

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“Even when he started off, he was playing just bits and pieces (for the national team). But he took advantage of each one and made the most of it. And with that consistency and not giving up — even when things weren’t going right — he just kept going and never looked back and believed that God would open the doors — and He did.

“Faith also plays a big part in this,” continued Dee. “The faith that we have not only in God, but in ourselves, that we really can do what we set our minds to do if you believe in yourself and take advantage of every opportunity that you’re given and maximize it.

“The world is your platform. And whatever you’re given, make the most of it.”

Adekugbe has done just that.

“Childhood dreams realized — you know what I mean?” said Sam’s younger brother Elijah — the second oldest of the siblings, who’s just capped a four-year tour of duty himself with Calgary’s Cavalry side. “I remember back in the day just talking about this type of stuff and seeing how far it could go. And seeing him reach the world stage, I’m just proud. 

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“I remember at the beginning of the cycles, of course World Cup qualification was the goal, and he was just like, ‘Imagine how crazy that would be.’ It was kinda just like a dream. And then after every game, it was, ‘You know? It’s happening.’ Before the game against Jamaica, he said, ‘Yo, this is the game. This is crazy. I’m just going to enjoy it.’ And they won 4-nil, and he did his thing.”

Adekugbe’s ‘thing’ has included being a poster boy for that massive qualifying triumph over Mexico nearly a year ago to the day.

You’ll recall he was the guy diving backwards into the snowbank during the emotionally charged contest in front of a soccer-crazy crowd at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium.

“It’s been a crazy experience with the amount of exposure he’s been getting the last few years,” Debbie said. “He’s been doing a lot of different interviews, so just like seeing his face everywhere is insane. Seriously, words are hard to describe. With him putting in a lot of work and a lot of effort to get here, we’re just really excited about that. It kind of makes it OK that we really haven’t seen him as often, because he’s doing his thing. 

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“We’re just really proud of him.”

Adekugbe is a veteran of Canada’s national team, having played 33 games with the side and having fought hard to reach this proud moment. His journey has taken him from minor soccer in Calgary, to Major League Soccer’s Vancouver Whitecaps and onwards to Brighton & Hove Albion of the English Premier League, IFK Goteborg of Sweden’s Allsvenskan and onto Norway’s top loop — the Eliteserien — with Vålerenga Fotball in Oslo before joining Hatayspor in 2021.

But nothing in his football journey compares to what he’s about to experience.

“Just seeing Sam on the roster and all the posts, it really has been a dream come true,” said Ruth, the youngest of the Adekugbes. “It’s so exciting, I can’t even put it into words. I was coaching today, and all my players were like, ‘Oh my gosh, how excited are you? We want to go, too.’ Having a sibling there, you feel like you’re kind of playing in it, too.

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“The fact that he’s playing in the same tournament as Messi and Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos and all those players is crazy.”

Crazy or not, Adekugbe and the Canadians have earned it.

To a man, they have done their thing, working their way out of relative obscurity over the last decade or so by coming together as what they bill ‘The Brotherhood’ to — finally — return to the world stage.

“Obviously, both my brothers were people that I looked up to playing and coaching, because they’ve gone through the ups and downs of the sports,” Ruth said. “And now seeing Sam go to the World Cup is really inspiring, as well, and it’s something I can put on to my athletes when I coach to say that, ‘This is where you can get to, even though you live in Calgary.

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“Some people might think that Canada’s not a soccer country,” continued Ruth. “But seeing how far we’ve come in 36 years and now in four years, being able to host the World Cup in Vancouver and Toronto, it’s creating kind of a dream into reality.”

“We have come a long way,” added Dee. “Jon Herdman has done a good job holding the team together and making it about the team. Canada has proven what they can achieve. I really do believe that we can go all the way. We’re just as good as any other. We’ll take every opportunity, and we’ll make it a great opportunity — and we’re going to come out on top. 

“We’re going to surprise a lot of people.”

Canada opens its first men’s World Cup experience in 36 years against Belgium on Nov. 23 (noon, CTV/TSN). It then follows with more Group F round-robin soccer against Croatia on Nov. 27 (9 a.m., CTV/TSN) and against Morocco on Dec. 1 (8 a.m. CTV/TSN).

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