World News

FIFA Fiesta: Canada hosts the World again

8 February 2007 at 11:41 | 966 views

By Abayomi Charles Roberts in Edmonton

Canada beat Brazil 2-1 last year, here in Edmonton. The only time Canada has defeated Brazil in soccer, it was the first of a series of friendly matches between the two countries at the Under-20 level. Brazil won the other two matches in the series.

The Edmonton stunner, played at the Commonwealth Stadium on May 19, was not only memorable to Canadians as a nation but also special to one player who made it personal, in grand style. Central Defender David Edgar, playing on his 19th birthday, got the opener 25 minutes into the game.

Brazil drew level early in the second half when substitute Diogo Luis Santo struck from inside the box, to the left post of the Canadian goal. Asmir Begovic, the six-foot-five keeper got a hand to the ball but it was not enough to deny the visitors.

Canada crafted the winner came in the 65th minute when ace striker Wil Johnson capitalized on a feeble clearance by the Brazilian defence, forced by a deft cross from J’aime Peters, the Canucks’ tactful schemer. That goal sealed the deal. “No matter what happens over the next two games of the series, you’ll never be able to take away the fact that these boys beat Brazil this evening,” Head Coach Dale Mitchell is quoted to have said at a press conference afterwards.

The two sides might have another chance to go at it again, this time for real FIFA hardware, as Canada hosts the 16th edition of the World Youth Championships, FIFA’s Under-20 World Cup. Brazil, four-time winners; Argentina, the defending champions who have won it a record five times, and 21 other countries from all over the world will join Canada as hosts.

The Teams
Austria, The Czech Republic, Poland, Portugal, Scotland and Spain have each booked slots in the tournament, as UEFA member countries. Portugal is the only country - apart from Argentina and Brazil - to have won the cup more than once, in 1989 and 1991. Spain clinched the titled once, in 1999, when they beat Japan in the final.

Chile and Uruguay will complete the quartet from CONMEBOL, the South American soccer confederation. Argentina first won it in 1979 when Diego Maradona burst into the global scene and thrilled with his skills. He snatched the Adidas Golden Ball as best player in that year’s edition. His compatriots have gone on to win it four more times and they come to Canada as reigning champions. Argentina beat Nigeria in the final of the last edition in 2005, in Holland. Again, their own Lionel Messi was top scorer, with six goals.

New Zealand will be the sole representatives of Oceania (OFC). They beat Fiji 3-2 in their final qualifier earlier this month. Japan, Jordan, Republic of Korea (South) and Democratic Republic of Korea (North) qualified from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) zone. Of the four, Japan have come closest to the crown, in Nigeria in 1999, when they settled for silver.

Africa too will be fielding four teams, under CAF’s banner: Congo (Brazzaville), Gambia, Nigeria and Zambia. Nigeria is widely expected to go the distance, having won silver twice in the past. Nigeria is one of only two African countries to have hosted these championships before. Nigeria played host in 1999. Ghana, twice runners-up previously, are noticeably absent.

Panama and USA have already qualified from the North/Central American (CONCACAF) zone; but there are still two spots remaining, with Mexico, Costa Rica, St. Kitts & Nevis and Jamaica as contenders. Those will be decided by month’s end, to complete the roster to 24 countries.

FIFA will then hold the Draw for fixtures on March 3, in Toronto. Matches will be played in six cities across the country: Burnaby, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Victoria.

The Hottest of the Hosts
Canada plays a couple of other friendlies late next month, as they prepare for the FIFA fiesta. Both matches will be against Scotland, both to be played in BC, according to the official Canada Soccer web site. Hopefully all the key players will have been in camp by then, especially stars like David Edgar whose club is Newcastle United in England. He made at least eight appearances for Canada last season and he played so well he’s been crowned Canadian Youth Player of the Year.

Other members of the squad who play club soccer in Europe include defenders Kent O’connor and Kennedy Owusu-Mensah, (Hertha Berlin and 1860 Munich, respectively, in Germany); J’aime Peters (Ipswich Town, England); and goalkeeper Asmir Begovic (La Louviere, Belgium).

This competition is the brainchild of former FIFA president, Dr. Joao Havelange. He started it as the World Youth Championships, after he took office in 1974, with 16 national teams. The pool was increased to 24 in 1997. The Soviet Union (USSR), then comprising Russia, won the maiden tournament in 1977, in Tunisia.

The continents take turns in hosting. During the first few tournaments, matches lasted only 40 minutes per half, with a 20-minute extra time when necessary. As the games gained momentum, all standard FIFA rules came into effect and today only age separates the boys from the men. Word spread around and by the 4th edition in 1983; it had become a ‘Junior World Cup.’ Now, some 20 years and 15 chapters into this FIFA fairy tale, countries have taken it as a chance to proudly display budding national stars while laying the foundations for future national squads.

The event comes every two years. The Mexico edition in 1983 has had the “the highest accumulative audience registered at FIFA - 1,155160,” according to Whatever the math used here, Canada looks set to smash it this summer.

Soccer Spice on Canada Day
The tournament kicks off on Saturday 30th June, the eve of this year’s Canada Day. With over 30 matches slated across the country, patriotic celebrations of Canada’s National Day on and around Sunday July 1, 2007 will be spiced with world class soccer, courtesy of FIFA and Canada Soccer. The tournament will climax in the grand final on Sunday July 22, 2007.

Photo: Canada’s U-20 during the Brazil clash in Edmonton.