Canada News

Canada gears up for FIFA U-20 World Cup

2 May 2007 at 10:44 | 2160 views

By Abayomi Charles Roberts in Edmonton.

Canada hosts the next FIFA World Cup for Under-20s. Branded Canada 2007, the tournament is the 16th FIFA U-20 World Cup. It features Canada as hosts and 23 other national squads from all over the world. From June 30 to July 22, this year soccer starlets from different countries will battle and tackle for the ultimate prize, the FIFA Junior World Cup.

Six cities; Burnaby, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Victoria, will host the 52 matches leading to the trophy. Already, fans have bought more than half-a-million tickets, in advance. This is a premium soccer showcase for so many reasons. Here are a few.

Canada has qualified for the final series seven times before this coming tournament. This will be the fourth consecutive outing for Team Canada. Four years ago, at the 14th edition in The United Arab Emirates, Canada had its best performance at a global soccer championship (for men). After losing to Brazil and then Australia, Canada beat the Czech Republic 1-0 in the group phase. The Canucks then went on to defeat Burkina Faso in the Round of 16, before losing narrowly to Spain in the quarterfinals. That match went into extra-time.

According to The Edmonton Sun Newspaper, more than 5,000 players worldwide have played in this biennial tournament since it began in 1977. At the FIFA (senior) World Cup in Germany last year, there were over 750 players on national rosters. Of these, at least 160 have had a taste of the Junior World Cup, the newspaper states.

Also, five Canadian Hall of Fame soccer players have featured in these games: Gerry Gray and Ian Bridge in 1979; Alex Bunbury in 1985; Dominic Mobilio in 1987; and TV soccer analyst, Craig Forrest in 1987. Added to this, Canada has six potential returnees from the squad that played in Holland in 2005: Goalie Asmir Begovic, Jonathan Beaulieu-Bourgault, Andrea Lombardo, Jaime Peters, Will Johnson and David Edgar.

From the USA’s 2006 Major League Soccer (MLS) rosters, 58 players have played in this competition, including Canadians Pat Onstad (Houston) in 1987 and Dwayne de Rosario (Houston) in 1997. From the Premier League in England, 65 players on the rosters for the 2006/7 season have also played in the FIFA Junior World Cup. One of them is Canadian Paul Stalteri, in 1997.

Team Canada will be meeting Austria, Chile and Congo-Brazzaville in the Group stage. According to The Edmonton Sun, Canada and Austria have clashed only once in competition. It was at the senior level and Canada came out on top (2-0), in 2006. Canada has played Congo twice, both times in the ‘Jeux de la francophonie’ (Francophone Games) in Madagascar in 1997. Team Canada won 3-2, after a 0-0 draw between the two youth sides.

The third country, Chile, has competed against Canada seven times, three of these matches at the Youth (Under-20) level. They met twice in 1987; with Canada winning 2-1, after a 1-1 draw. The last clash was on June 9, 2001 when they drew 1-1 in Santiago.

Another person to watch is the man behind the bench, Head Coach Dale Mitchell. The Vancouver native who turned 49 on April 21, 2007 is himself a former national player. He was a first team player, starting in all of Team Canada’s matches in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, as well as the 1986 FIFA World Cup in Mexico. In 55 appearances for Canada, Mitchell equaled the national record by netting 19 goals at the senior level. Along with his playing and coaching career, Coach Mitchell has been a frequent soccer commentator on local radio in Vancouver.

From 1977 when the inaugural games took place in Tunisia, up to the 1995 edition in Qatar, only 16 teams took part. The pool grew to 24 for the 1997 games in Malaysia. Since then there have been four countries each from five continental federations; AFC, CAF, CONCACAF and CONMEBOL. Six European countries are represented under the UEFA banner while Oceania’s OFC has a sole representative. The 24th is the host country, which qualifies automatically.

Argentina has the record for the most wins; five times. They come to Canada as defending champions. Brazil have taken the title four times, their last victory was in the UAE games in 2003, when Canada fell out in the quarterfinals. Portugal have won it twice, in 1989 and 1991. Other winners have been Spain, Germany, the former Soviet Union and the former Yugoslovia.

Edmonton will host two of Team Canada’s three group matches, at the Commonwealth Stadium; against Austria on July 5 and then Congo on July 8. Canada’s very first match will be against Chile in Toronto on Canada Day (July 1). In preparation as hosts, Canada beat Brazil 2-1 in a friendly at Commonwealth Stadium on May 19 last year. They play Cup holders Argentina on May 11, in Toronto. That too will be a friendly/warm-up match.

Photo: Vanguard’s Charles Roberts(left) at the Brazil/Canada clash in Edmonton last May.