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FIFA 2007: Canada U-20 counts on home advantage

14 April 2007 at 08:54 | 1832 views

By Abayomi Charles Roberts in Edmonton.

This year’s Canada Day will have a touch of world class soccer The Under-20 squad plays Chile to kick off the 16th FIFA World Championships here. Canada and 23 other countries from all over the globe will battle for the bragging rights, as winners of the 2007 Junior World Cup.

Burnaby, Edmonton, Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and Victoria will each host their share of the 52 matches. From the fixtures/venues, Edmonton and Toronto could just give the Canucks the edge they need to make it through the group phase.

Canada are pooled with Austria, Chile and Congo (Brazzaville) and will play two of their three matches in Edmonton, in the round-robin format at this stage. On July 1 (Canada Day), the hosts tackle Chile at Toronto’s Exhibition Place (the National Soccer Stadium) for their group’s curtain raiser. Then, four days later, the Canucks clash with Austria. The venue for this match is the Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, where FIFA and Canada Soccer (the host federation) can expect a good turnout of fans. Many pundits and the players themselves believe that the home crowds will spur the team all the way, to take the crown. This is the confidence and optimism one player, striker Andreas Lombardi, expressed on FIFA.com recently.

“We are playing on home soil and people are going to come to roar us on...” Lombardo anticipates. He played in the 2005 games in Holland. “The crowds won’t make us nervous; they will get us up for action,” he is quoted to have said. “We are all pros and we have to come together and use the (home) crowd to our advantage.” The youngster had stints with Italian club sides like Atalanta and Perugia before he joined Toronto FC in the MLS for this season.

Austria will be a bit more familiar with the Commonwealth turf, after they would have opened their campaign with Congo four days earlier, but the visitors are sure to face a very big crowd of home supporters. This could increase the odds in favour of the hosts when the two sides meet on July 5. The Commonwealth Stadium seats nearly 60,000 fans. It is the biggest for spectators in this year’s tournament. Lombardo, one of the few to have played in the previous edition, knows this. So do teammates like David Edgar, Jaime Peters, goalie Asmir Begovic and Wil Johnson who rallied to beat Brazil at the same stadium last year. Fans’ support for Team Canada was overwhelming that evening.

A wave of soccer mania is sweeping across Canada and the fans could well give the Congolese a similar treat of ‘home-advantage.’ More so if the Canadians play well and win the first two matches. Their game against Congo is on July 8. If the boys pull through, it should rev their engines and help them weather the storm in the hotter, latter stages.

Canada will enjoy an even bigger turnout of home fans if they qualify for the second round, no matter where they play (Edmonton, Montreal, Toronto or Ottawa). It will be even better in the semi-finals, which are to be played in Edmonton and Toronto. The stadium in Toronto is smaller. Yet, the home team is likely to draw an impressive crowd of pro-Canada fans, not only from metropolitan Toronto but also from other areas and even beyond the borders. The grand finale is in Toronto on July 22.

The opening match of the tournament is between Brazil and Poland. It will be played at ‘Le Stade Olympique’ (The Olympic Stadium) in Montreal, on June 30. The third-place decider will also be played in Toronto, a few days before the final match.

There are six groups, comprising four countries each. The top two teams in the groups qualify, as will the best four of the 3rd-placers. All sixteen teams will pair up for the knockout stages where it is do-or-die: win and advance, lose and go home.

Group A: Austria, Canada (hosts), Chile, Congo (Brazzaville)

Group B: Jordan, Spain, Uruguay, Zambia

Group C: Gambia, Mexico, New Zealand, Portugal

Group D: Brazil, N/Korea, Poland, USA

Group E: Argentina (holders), Czech Republic, S/Korea, Panama

Group F: Costa Rica, Japan, Nigeria, Scotland

Jaime Peters and Marcel Dae Jong scored one goal apiece but it was not enough and Canada fell in the group stage. That was in their last outing in Holland two years ago. In the 2003 edition in the UAE, the Canadians were brilliant, upsetting the Czech Republic en route to the second round. They then beat Burkina Faso 2-1 in the quarterfinals.

Spain had to go into extra-time to beat Canada 2-1 in the semi-finals. The score was 1-1 at fulltime. Head Coach, Dale Mitchell, was in charge then and up to now. His skills and experience should also help Team Canada hold their own and possibly win the cup this time.

Photo: Canada’s Asmir Begovic

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