'It's going to be wild': Winnipeg bars, clubs and fans will set their alarms for soccer

Winnipeg bars and clubs are ready for World Cup fans who want to watch games - and drink - early in the morning.

5 watering holes get World Cup extensions, letting them serve liquor as early as 7 a.m.

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, right, challenges for the ball with Switzerland's Fabian Schar during a World Cup qualifying match last year. Portugal's clash with Spain on Friday is expected to attract big crowds to Winnipeg bars and clubs. (The Associated Press)

Soccer fans won't be the only ones setting their alarms a little earlier than usual over the next month, as the planet's biggest soccer tournament kicks off half a world away.

The FIFA World Cup, held every four years, begins Thursday at 10 a.m. CDT, when host Russia takes on Saudi Arabia. But the action will start earlier on subsequent days, with some games scheduled to begin as early as 5 a.m. in Winnipeg.

Across the city, clubs and bars are making plans to open early, giving local soccer fans a place to come together and root for their favourite team. And for many patrons, that will mean a pint or two, no matter the hour.

"I don't know what to expect," said Brendan Berg, who works at X-Cues' Billiards and Cafe on Sargent Avenue. "This will be my first time working the World Cup here, but I know it's going to be a good time."

X-Cues' is one of many establishments promising to open early, to ensure fans can watch every game of the World Cup. And although he doesn't expect every matchup to draw big crowds, Berg predicts "it's going to be wild in here" for many of the games.

Brendan Berg, who works at X-Cues' Billiards and Cafe on Sargent Avenue in Winnipeg, speaks about the establishment's plans during the FIFA World Cup, which begins on Thursday in Russia. (John Einarson/CBC)

As of Wednesday, the Liquor and Gaming Authority of Manitoba said they had received six requests to extend liquor service during the World Cup beyond the usual hours of 9 a.m. until 2 a.m. Five requests had been approved, allowing establishments to begin serving alcohol at 7 a.m.

One such establishment is the King's Head Pub in the Exchange, where owner Chris Graves plans to be open for each of the 64 matches during the tournament. That includes Saturday's game between France and Australia, which begins at 5 a.m.

"We've got an Australian manager ... he was very adamant to make sure the Australian game was showed," said Graves, laughing. "So I told him he's responsible for working that one."

Even though the King's Head is known as an English pub, Graves said fans of all stripes are welcome. He describes the atmosphere as "all-inclusive," which is why he's making sure to open his doors for every game.

"It's very important to us. It's very important to Manitoba as well, so we want to make sure we're a good venue for it," said Graves. "We're going at it pretty hard."

Portuguese games a big draw

The same can be said for Delta Sports Club on Sargent Avenue, where owner Simplicio Vaz will be cheering for his native Portugal. 

"I would cheer for Canada, but Canada's not there," said Vaz, who has lived in the country for more than 40 years.

Like the King's Head, the private Delta club has been granted extended hours to serve alcohol as early as 7 a.m., although he expects his members will be more interested in coffee and breakfast than booze. He plans to be open for every game of the tournament ... except for that 5 a.m. game on Saturday.

"Five is too early for anybody to get up," he said. "Especially if you close at two or three in the morning."

No Italy, no problem

​Another watering hole with extended hours is Teo's Mano a Mano Restaurant and Lounge on Corydon Avenue. Like their counterparts at the Delta club, they're expecting a big turnout for Portuguese games, especially Friday afternoon's clash with Spain.

"The Portugal game, I know is going to be a big one," said assistant manager Laura Cameron. "I'm sure we'll have a lot of people down with jerseys, we've got all of our flags out already, everyone's pretty excited."

Located in the heart of Winnipeg's Little Italy, Mano a Mano would normally attract scores of Italian fans. But with their beloved Azzurri failing to qualify for this year's event, Cameron said fans will likely find other teams to follow.

"It was a little bit of a stink, definitely, for my owner, because he wanted Italy in," said Cameron. "But at least we've still got some European teams like Portugal and Spain that our crowd is very excited to watch."

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