Saturday, July 14, 2007

Quarter-final previews

The FIFA U-20 World Cup continues to provide quality soccer. Only eight teams remain in the competition, and by Sunday night, they'll be reduced to four. Without further ado (Freddy or other), here's my previews and predictions for the quarter-final clashes.


Austria vs. USA (BMO Field, Toronto, 2:15 P.M. ET)

This should be an interesting tilt. The U.S. has had a strong tournament so far, defeating such South American powers as Brazil and Uruguay. Freddy Adu has shown why everyone rated him so highly several years ago, and has lived up to his tremendous potential. Danny Szetela has also been terrific, producing several goals in addition to his solid play as a defensive midfielder. Austria has also been strong, especially defensively, where they have only conceded two goals. Their attack has been reasonably one-dimensional though, with Erwin (Jimmy) Hoffer producing half of their goals. Surprisingly enough, the pre-match lineups have listed Hoffer as starting on the bench, as he did against Uruguay. The U.S. will need to beware of him coming off the bench late in the match, but if they can produce some goals against a strong Austrian defence, they should be able to take this game. The inclusion of standouts Sal Zizzo and Jozy Altidore in the starting lineup, both who were questionable due to injury, as well as the return of #1 keeper Chris Seitz, make things look very good for the Americans.

Prediction: U.S.

Spain vs. Czech Republic
(Commonwealth Stadium, Edmonton, 7:45 P.M. ET)

This clash of European sides should provide another interesting matchup of offense and defence. Spain lead all sides thus far with 12 goals for, while the Czechs have 6. However, the Czech team have also only conceded 5 in four games. Unfortunately for the Czechs, their side may be reduced by injury. In a bizzare twist, is reporting that midfielder Tomas Oklestek, who converted the decisive penalty against Japan in the last round, injured his shoulder in the post-goal celebrations. The Czechs have good depth though, as five different players have scored for them thus far. This could be a tough one to call, but I think Spain's performance against Brazil on Wednesday revealed them as one of the best sides in this tournament. Their variety of offensive threats, such as Adrian Lopez, tied for the tournament lead with five goals, and Diego Capel, who dominated on the wing against Brazil, should be enough to break down the Czech defense and carry them through.

Pick: Spain


Chile vs. Nigeria
(Olympic Stadium, Montreal, 2:15 P.M. ET)

Another interesting conflict here. Chile have proven surprisingly dominant in the competition thus far, as they entered as the last South American seed. They have not conceded a goal through four matches, and have seven to their account. However, they will be missing Arturo Vidal due to suspension. Vidal, the only man to notch a goal in their Round of 16 match against Portugal, was sent off late in that game for time-wasting. They will need star striker Alexis Sanchez to step up and provide goals, but his fitness is somewhat in question, as he has only played in two matches thus far. Nigeria have looked good as well thus far, but were in one of the easiest groups and only had to face Zambia in the Round of 16. They have five goals for to one against. They may make things difficult for Chile, but I don't feel that their attack will be able to overcome the strong defence of the South Americans.

Pick: Chile

Argentina vs. Mexico (Frank Clair Stadium, Ottawa, 7:45 P.M. ET)

This should be the match of the round. Argentina have been growing in strength throughout the tournament, after a disappointing 0-0 draw in the opener against the Czechs. They displayed magnificent technical skill and tremendous creativity to break down a solid Polish defence in the last round. Sergio Aguero, who notched two beautiful goals against the Poles (including one that made the TSN Honour Roll), is tied for the tournament lead with 5 goals in 5 matches, and has been one of the best players thus far. He's making the 23 million euro transfer fee Athletico Madrid agreed to for him last summer (making him the most expensive acquisition in their history) seem like a bargain. One of his main competitors thus far has been Mexican standout Giovanni Dos Santos, who belongs to Athletico's Spanish rival Barcelona. Dos Santos and his Mexican teammates have dominated thus far, with 10 goals for and only two against. They were the only team to collect a full 9 points from the group stage. However, they did not appear overly impressive against a weak Congo side last round, requiring two late goals to seal a 3-0 victory. Mexico should put up a good fight, but the depth of talent Argentina has, including such standouts as Aguero, Maximiliano Moralez, and Angel Di Maria, should be enough to see them through to the semis.

Pick: Argentina

Friday, July 13, 2007

Another interesting night

Yesterday's FIFA U-20 World Cup Round of Sixteen matches had a tough act to follow after Wednesday's dramatics. However, it turned out to be another great evening of soccer, with many interesting storylines to follow. My picks all won as well, leaving me at 6 and 2 thus far. I'll post previews and predictions for the quarter-finals before matches begin tomorrow.

Poland - Argentina generated yesterday's best highlights, first with the surprise tally from Polish striker Dawid Janczyk, and then with the tremendous skill the Argentinians displayed in response. Maximiliano Moralez and Angel Di Maria combined very nicely for the first goal before the half, and then Sergio Aguero took over. Aguero, with his back to goal early on after the break, brilliantly chipped the ball to himself over his defender, ran around, and drilled it into the net. He then went on to pot his second marker of the evening near full time to seal the victory for his squad. Argentina looked brilliant all evening, and were able to break down the Poles' suffocating defence on many occasions, unlike Brazil's performance in the opener. They will have a tougher test on Sunday, when they take on a Mexican side that has dominated every game they've played so far.

Mexico had possibly the easiest draw in the round of 16, going up against a Congoese side that had barely snuck into third in Group A with a win over Canada in the final game. Congo put up a good fight, but were no match for the class of the Mexicans. They also ran into discipline issues, conceding an early penalty and having a player sent off shortly after the break. Mexico and their star striker, Giovanni Dos Santos (currently in second place on FIFA's poll asking who's been the best player so far, behind only Adrian Lopez of Spain) will face their toughest test to date in the next round as they go up against Argentina.

The Portugal - Chile match was as close a clash as anticipated. Chile's offense, led by Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal, created chances all game. Vidal notched the only goal of the match just before halftime, though. Portugal also displayed offensive ability, but they seemed to struggle against the superb Chilean defence without the presence of injured star Bruno Gama. Bizarrely, there were three sendings-off in stoppage time. Portugal's Mano took out a Chilean player with a hard charge, and was promptly red-carded. His teammate Zequinha, protesting the call, grabbed the referee's card out of his hand, which only resulted in an ejection for him as well and reduced Portugal to nine men. Later on in stoppage time, Vidal received a second yellow for time-wasting, ejecting him from the game and disqualifying him for Chile's quarterfinal fixture against Nigeria on Sunday.

The Zambia - Nigeria match also featured some quality attacking soccer, with Nigeria taking the lead just three minutes in. Nigeria dominated the match, but Zambian keeper Jacob Banda kept his side in it, and it looked like there might be hope for the Zambians when they equalized in the 33rd minute. However, Nigerian midfielder Chukwuma Akabueze converted a solid strike in the 57th minute to ensure his side would advance. Next up for the Nigerians: a clash with Chile in Montreal.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Terrific night of soccer

Last night featured perhaps the best clashes of the FIFA U-20 World Cup thus far. All of the matches were extremely close, with Austria defeating Gambia 2-1 on a late goal, the Americans besting Uruguay 2-1 in extra time, Spain getting two goals in extra time to beat the Brazilians, and the Czechs slipping by Japan in a shootout. The Spain - Brazil clash was one of the best games I've seen at any level in a long while. Both teams were terrific, but Spain probably deserved the win on the strength of their chances. It's unfortunate that their first goal came on what clearly appeared to be a handball, though. The replay showed it pretty well, but also illustrated that Gerard Pique had his body between the ref and his hand, so it would have been a tough call to make (however, I still think the assistant should have picked it up).

I'm quite confident that we'll see more of several players from both the Spanish and Brazilian sides in the near future. Six of the Spainards are listed as belonging to powerhouse Real Madrid, including goalkeeping standout Adan. Others belong to such illustrious sides as Barcelona and Liverpool, while Pique is a Manchester United prospect. Another Spanish player who impressed me was Sevilla's Diego Capel, who displayed tremendous pace on his runs down the flank and created several quality chances.

The Brazilians also have their share of stars. Most of them currently play in the domestic league, but many are being targeted by top-flight European clubs. Some, like Real Madrid defender Marcelo and his fellow fullback, David Marinho of Benfica, have already made the jump to European football. My prediction is that other stars, such as striker Alexandre Pato, midfielder Renato Augusto, and goalkeeper Cassio will soon follow.

The other games were also quite good. Erwin (Jimmy) Hoffa, who apparently is nicknamed after the famous American union boss, was surprisingly not picked to start for Austria, as he has been their highest-profile player thus far. However, he came off the bench in the 71st minute, and scored a brilliant goal ten minutes later to take the Austrian side through. Japan outplayed the Czechs for most of their match, but the Europeans were able to preserve a draw until penalties, where their keeper Petr Radek made two great saves to take them through. Set pieces played a major role throughout that match, with three of the four regulation goals coming off penalties and one off a corner. The U.S. also pulled off a late equalizer and an extra-time goal to advance against Uruguay. If tonight's games have even half the drama of last night's, the real winners will be soccer fans!

Most anticipated match of tonight:
Chile versus Portugal, 7:45 ET, Commonwealth Stadium, Edmonton

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

U-20 Predictions Part Two

Here's my picks for Thursday's games:

Argentina vs. Poland (4:45 PM ET, BMO Field, Toronto)

Argentina were one of the favorites entering the tournament, and have done reasonably well so far. They started poorly, drawing 0-0 with the Czechs, but then hammered a weak Panama squad 6-0. They finished the group stage with a 1-0 victory over North Korea. Their defence has done tremendously well thus far not to allow a goal, but they haven't really faced a quality attacking side. Poland has been inconsistent thus far, pulling off an amazing 1-0 upset of Brazil in the opener but then getting shelled 6-1 by the Americans. They finished the group phase by drawing the South Koreans 1-1, good enough for second place in the "Group of Death, Group D. In order for them to win, they will have to follow the Greek model they utilized to perfection against Brazil: counterattack early and often, defend the middle of the pitch with all hands, and hope for an early goal.
The longer the game goes without the first goal, the better things look for Argentina: Poland will need to score early to have a good chance.Argentina will have to prove that they can score against a strong defence, and will have to spread the ball wide in order to win. I thought that was the chief problem Brazil had in the opener: they became too individualistic, and weren't able to create anything in the packed centre of the field. If Argentina can avoid the frustration that plagued Brazil, patiently wait for their chances, and prevent Poland from scoring, they should be able to take this one.

Pick: Argentina

Zambia vs. Nigeria (4:45 PM ET, Frank Clair Stadium, Ottawa)

This all-African matchup should provide an interesting game. Nigeria have had a good deal of success at this level: they reached the final in both 1989 and 2005, falling to Portugal and Argentina respectively. Their defence has been rock-solid thus far, and they have yet to concede a goal. However, they have only tallied three markers to date. They tied Japan for first place in Group F, but wound up second on goals for, as both sides had equal goal differentials.

Zambia began the tournament with a disappointing draw against Jordan. They looked better in a loss to powerhouse Spain, but saved a great performance for their final game against Uruguay, where they defeated the strong South Americans 2-0 to guarantee a spot in the Round of 16. They're peaking at the right time, and they could challenge Nigeria, but I think Nigeria's defence and experience will be enough to see them through.

Pick: Nigeria

Chile vs. Portugal (7:45 PM ET, Edmonton, Commonwealth Stadium)

This should be the marquee matchup of Thursday night. Chile dominated Group A, and proved the strength of the South American conference, as they only finished fourth in qualifying. They soundly defeated Canada and Congo by 3-0 scores, and tied Austria 0-0 in a meaningless final game. They have proved that they can both score and defend at this level. Portugal has been more inconsistent: they defeated soccer minnows New Zealand, but lost to both Mexico and Gambia. The Gambia game especially hurt, with star Bruno Gama and defender Andres Marques both picking up injuries. If they had their full side, I'd favour them more: as it is, they'll give Chile a run for their money, but I think they will fall short.

Pick: Chile

Mexico vs. Congo
(7:45 ET, Olympic Stadium, Montreal)

This appears to be quite a mismatch. Mexico dominated their group, and was the only team to achieve the maximum 9 points from the round-robin phase. Congo barely squeaked through, losing to Chile, drawing Austria, and beating Canada in a game that could have gone either way. Congo will go for it at every opportunity, but their defence needs work: they allowed Canada far too many quality chances in the final game, including several free headers. Mexico is an all-around team, and their class should show through here.

Pick: Mexico

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Previewing the Round of 16

On Wednesday, the Round of 16 will begin at the FIFA U-20 World Cup. Here's my breakdowns and predictions for each one of tomorrow night's games. Picks for Thursday night's games will follow tomorrow.


USA versus Uruguay
(7:45 PM ET, BMO Field, Toronto)

This will be an interesting one. The U.S. disappointed with a 1-1 draw in their opener against South Korea, which I saw in Montreal. However, they quickly recovered with a 6-1 demolishing of Poland and a massive 2-1 upset of Brazil. Freddy Adu has had a fantastic tournament thus far, and is perhaps showing the first real signs of living up to his tremendous potential. New York Red Bulls' striker Jozy Altidore has finished clinically thus far, while Sal Zizzo and Danny Szetela have produced well from midfield. Uruguay's team have not been as impressive to this point. They did well in the opener against a strong Spanish side, producing a draw, but barely squeaked out a 1-0 win over dismal Jordan and lost 2-0 to underdogs Zambia in the final group game. With that said, they had already qualified for the next round before the last match, and thus had little to play for. They are still one of the more impressive third-place finishers, along with Brazil, and will give the U.S. a run for their money, but I don't foresee them pulling off the win.

Pick: U.S.

Austria versus Gambia (7:45 ET, Commonwealth Stadium, Edmonton)

This will be an interesting matchup, with defensive-minded Austria taking on a Gambian side that goes for goal at every opportunity. Erwin Hoffer is the one Austrian who receives a lot of publicity, and he did produce a nice goal against Congo. However, that was one of only two goals the Austrians have so far, so scoring may be an issue for them. Against Canada, Austria showed that they can defend well as a team, which should serve them well in this match. Gambia did not look good in their first matches, getting blown out 3-0 by Mexico and barely defeating a weak New Zealand team by a score of 1-0. They rebounded with a nice 2-1 victory against Portugal, but it was a game which could have easily gone either way. There was also some poor discipline from the Gambians in that match, with captain Ken Jammeh sent off for a vicious tackle. He will miss this match, which could additionally play a factor.

Pick: Austria

Spain vs. Brazil (11:15 PM ET, Swangard Stadium, Burnaby)

This will be the marquee matchup of this round. Both teams were considered as strong possibilities to win it all going in. Spain have looked pretty good so far, but the quality of their opposition has been limited. They drew 2-2 with Uruguay, snuck past the Zambians in a 2-1 match, and defeated Jordan 4-2. Scoring has not been a problem for them. The Brazilians have also been able to score at times, particularly in their 3-2 win over South Korea, but have looked suspect on defence. They've allowed 5 goals in 3 matches, which isn't particularly bad, but isn't great either. On offence, they've displayed a lot of creativity, but less finishing. They were unable to break down the 10-man defence of Poland, and could only notch one goal in a surprising 2-1 loss to the Americans. However, I still like them to win. Brazil has a history of coming up big in crucial games at all levels, whereas Spain tends to choke whenever given half a chance.

Pick: Brazil

Japan versus the Czech Republic
(11:15 p.m. ET, Royal Athletic Park, Victoria)

The Japanese have surprised me thus far with exceptionally good performances. They've scored 4 goals, and were only shut out in a meaningless group finale against Nigeria. Their defence has also been very solid, as they've only allowed one goal through 3 matches. However, their group did include such easy marks as Costa Rica and Scotland. The Czechs also faced such opponents as North Korea and Panama, who should have provided similar soft targets. They defeated Panama 2-1, but drew 2-2 with the Koreans, giving them 3 goals against in three games. Their opener, where they were able to hold the talented Argentinians to a goalless draw was impressive, though. Their soccer pedigree would suggest that they'd be favoured here, but their lack of offense thus far tells me that the Japanese will triumph.

Pick: Japan

Monday, July 09, 2007

Heartbreak in the rain

So, for a second time in as many months, Canada exits a tournament early. At the Gold Cup, this was due to a ridiculous offside call, but last night in the downpour in Edmonton, much of the blame was placed squarely on the shoulders of a fine crop of young Canadian players. However, They were in a difficult position from the start, due to Gambia's upset of Portugal, and needed to win by three to advance. Credit should go to head coach Dale Mitchell for getting the players to play the more offensive style required, and for finally starting the combination of Tosaint Ricketts and Andrea Lombardo at the front.

Canada looked good early on, with Ricketts and David Edgar having chances inside the first ten minutes. Edgar, perhaps the one well-known star on this Canadian team for his work with Newcastle United, played well outside his normal role in the defence, and posed a serious threat from midfield for much of the match. Ricketts also impressed, much as he did in the game here in Kingston last month. He seems to be able to create chances off both the break and set plays, which should be a tremendous asset for Canada in years to come. However, unlike in Kingston, his final touch was never there Sunday night, and he was replaced going into the second half.

Congo converted one in the 26th minute, somewhat against the run of play. After that, however, it went downhill. The Canadians seemed overwhelmed by the mountain they had to climb, and did not create much until the half. After the break, though, they came out strong again for a while. Jaime Peters created some fine chances off the wing, but the finish was still not there. Lombardo also had some glorious opportunities, but did not have his usual touch. When Congo scored again in the 61st minute, it was obvious the Canadians had lost all hope of advancement.

The game continued to unravel for Canada in the 73rd minute, as goalkeeper Asmir Begovic picked up a deserved straight red for handling the ball well outside his box. As Canada had already made their three substitutions, midfielder Jonathan Beaulieu-Bourgault stepped into net. Looking rather undersized in the jersey and gloves of the 6'5 Begovic, Beaulieu-Bourgault put in a terrific performance in an unfamiliar role, making five saves over the remainder of the game. Canada contintued to press in an attempt to avoid being the first host nation to go goalless in this tournament, and had some glorious chances. Edgar headed one ball just wide, and Lombardo had several fantastic opportunities, including a free header in the dying minutes, but was still unable to convert.

Canada can take both positives and negatives from this tournament. On the bright side, they proved that there is a good quality of young talent coming up. Players such as Edgar, Peters, Begovic and Will Johnson should continue to develop with their European club sides, and will hopefully have an impact with the full national team in the days to come. Canada also demonstrated resilence: they appeared completely outclassed in the initial game against Chile, but had a legitimate shot to win both of the final two games if they had been able to convert some of the excellent chances they produced. This last game also proved that these players can produce an offensive, attacking style of play when required, something that has historically been a challenge for Canada.

However, on the negative side, Canada did not have to face any of the pre-tournament favorites, and still came up empty. Chile have been a surprise, and should give Portugal all they can handle on Thursday, but we really should have been able to do better against countries that are traditionally non-soccer powerhouses, such as Austria and Congo. Additionally, this performance will dampen some of the recent enthusiasm for soccer in Canada, and will prevent Mitchell from bringing much momentum to his new job as the manager of the full national side. Still, I believe Mitchell is the right man for the job. With him working together with assistant coach Stephen Hart, who led Canada to the Gold Cup semis, coaching should not be a problem for Canada.

Thumbs up, and down:

Time to take a page from Dave Hodge's book (he hosts The Reporters every Sunday morning on TSN, which always features a Thumbs up/Thumbs down segment). After each day of games, I'll try to present some lauds and criticisms for various teams and players.

Thumbs up to Jonathan Beaulieu-Bourgault, who stepped into goal for Canada after Asmir Begovic was sent off. It is rare to see an outfield player in the net, and even more rare to see one perform as admirably as Beaulieu-Bourgault, who made five saves and did not allow Congo to score during his appearance between the post.

Thumbs up to David Edgar, who also did well in an unfamiliar role. Edgar, who is normally a defender for Canada and England's Newcastle United, stepped into the midfield against Congo in an attempt to provide some offense. He created some good chances for other players, was effective defensively, and almost scored a couple of goals himself with his head.

Thumbs down to Asmir Begovic. Begovic did not receive much help defensively in Canada's 3-0 drubbing at Chilean hands, and played well against Austria. However, he did not look good on the first goal yesterday night, and made a critical blunder late in the match when he was sent off for handling the ball well outside the area. Begovic made the right play coming out to clear the ball from the Congolese striker, but he should have either chested the ball down and booted it to safety, or waited for it to drop further and volleyed it first time. He's done well with Portsmouth in the English Premiership, and certainly looks to be a solid keeper for Canada in the future, but Sunday will not be remembered as one of his career highlights.

This Week's Coverage:

Tune in tomorrow for my previews and predictions in the Round of 16 games. Wednesday's post will focus on some of the star players still in the tournament, while Thursday and Friday's entries will review the previous night's matches.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

A challenge for Canada: breaking down the U-20 possibilites

Canada has a tough road ahead of them at the U-20 World Cup. The opening 3-0 loss to Chile last Sunday, combined with Thursday's 1-0 defeat at the hands of the Austrians, has left the home squad sitting in last place in their group. If this was the full World Cup, they would already be eliminated. However, all is not lost yet, as this championship allows the top four (out of six) third-place teams to advance to the next round. If Canada is able to defeat Congo tonight, they have a good shot at grabbing one of these spots.

Here's how it breaks down. All teams are evaluated based on the number of points they have achieved from the games against the other three teams in their group. Three points are awarded for a win, one for a draw, and none for a loss. If teams are still tied, the first tiebreaker is goal differential (goals for minus goals against). If there is still a tie, the next tiebreaker is goals for, followed by fair play points (which includes the numbers of yellow and red cards handed out to each team), and finally the drawing of lots. The top two teams in each group automatically advance to the knockout phase of the tournament, while the third-place teams are compared across groups, with the top four out of six moving on.

All the matches in Groups B, D, E and F have been played, but so far, the only third place team that have locked up spots are Uruguay and Brazil. Uruguay's surprising 2-0 loss to Zambia in Victoria last night left them even with the African side with four points, but behind on goal differential, leaving them in third place in Group B. However, their four points are likely to be the best among third-place finishers. Groups D and F have their third place teams (Brazil and Costa Rica) both sitting on three points with a -1 goal differential. However, Brazil has four goals for, while Costa Rica only has two. Group E has North Korea already eliminated, as they are in third spot with only two points, which is worse than the current totals of four of the other third-place teams. Thus, Brazil is assured of finishing above both Costa Rica and North Korea, and will not have to worry about today's results.

The important match for Canada to watch will be today's Group C clash between Portugal and Gambia. This fixture, played in Montreal's Olympic Stadium (CBC, 5 PM ET), may provide the Canadians with their best chance to qualify. Portugal and Gambia currently both have three points, but Portugal has a +1 goal differential, while Gambia is -2. Canada, who take on Congo in Edmonton later tonight (CBC, 7:30 PM ET), are sitting on zero points in Group A with a -4 goal differential. If Portugal defeats Gambia by two goals and Canada wins by one, both teams would be at three points, but Canada would advance on goal differential (-3 to -4). This is the most likely scenario for Canadian advancement, and would leave them facing Group B winners Spain. There is yet another possibility to come out of Group C, depending on how New Zealand fares against Mexico, which I'll mention later.

However, there are other options for the Canadians if Portugal draw or lose. If Portugal-Gambia is a draw, both teams would seal a place in the next round with four points apiece. This would mean that Canada would have to defeat Congo, and then beat out Costa Rica in a tiebreak. If Canada win by three, they would be even with Costa Rica on goal differential, and the tiebreak would go to goals for. Costa Rica only have two (both coming against Scotland last night), so even a 3-0 Canadian victory would be enough to go through. This would leave Canada up against Group C winners Mexico in the next round, which would probably be a slightly easier task than defeating European qualifying champions Spain, but not by much.

The remaining possibilities are long shots, but still deserve to be mentioned. If Portugal somehow manage to lose to Gambia, they will also be left on three points. If they lose by two, they would wind up tied with Costa Rica on goal differential. However, they already have three goals for, so they would still advance over the Costa Ricans. If they lose 3-0, and the Canadians win by three, it would be Canada and Costa Rica advancing, with the Portuguese on the outside looking in. Portugal has looked very good in the games I've seen so far, and their star player Bruno Gama appears to be in fine form, so this scenario is unlikely to occur.

There is also the even less likely chain of events where the New Zealand squad manage to go through. They're currently on zero points with a -3 goal differential, so for this to happen, they would have to both beat heavily favoured Mexico and wind up ahead of or tied with the loser of Portugal-Gambia on goal difference. If they tie, they would have to have more goals for, which is also difficult: they haven't notched a goal so far, while Gambia have one and Portugal have three. Yet, in a tournament where Poland defeated Brazil with ten men, but still fell 6-1 to the United States, anything is clearly possible.


- It has been excellent to see the amount of interest this tournament has generated. The fans have turned out in great numbers across the country, and the quality of the games has not disappointed, in my view. The dramatic upsets, such as the aforementioned Polish games against Brazil and the U.S., as well as Zambia's shocking victory over a strong Uruguayan side, have made the tournament even more exciting.

- There has been plenty of good media coverage as well. Sportsnet deserves recognition for their tournament home page, which made most of the research for this post possible. Their site also features some excellent analysis by my favorite soccer columnist, Ben Knight, and Gerry Dobson, the regular host of their English Premier League coverage. I am also indebted to Fox Soccer's Bobby McMahon, whose blog has offered some terrific coverage of the tournament, and who did a great job of breaking down the possible scenarios for advancement. He also linked me to this FIFA document (page 28),which details the exact tie-breaking process and who plays who. CBC's tournament page also has good coverage, and features columns by such soccer notables as Craig Forrest, Dick Howard, Nigel Reed, and Mitch Peacock, who will be familiar to those who follow CBC's World Cup, national team, and Toronto FC coverage.

- With this competition rapidly approaching the knockout stage, I'm going to attempt to do a daily post on the tournament until it has run its course. Stay tuned!

- Apparently, today is CBC's Soccer Day in Canada. Similar to the annual Hockey Day in Canada, they've been focusing on teams and youth players across the country. Great idea, but I wish they would have promoted it a bit more prominently: I've been watching their U-20 World Cup coverage almost every day, and am a frequent visitor to the sports section of their website, but hadn't heard anything about it until I flipped on the TV earlier. However, they've had some really cool stuff, including an interview with Cory Bowles ("Cory" of Trailer Park Boys fame) who apparently will be starring in a show called "Y Soccer" on CBC Radio. The show is set to take place from 11:30 AM - 12:00 PM each day from July 16-20. Definitely looking forward to it!

- Congrats to the Prince Edward Island women, who recently took home the silver medal in soccer (they used the proper name of football!) in the Island Games 2007, held on the island of Rhodes last week.

- Finally, also on the subject of international soccer, Queen's own former star striker Eilish McConville, a nominee for the BLG Award as Canada's top female university athlete this past year, will be representing Canada in the World University Games this summer.The games will be held in Bangkok from August 8-18. Watch this page and the Queen's Journal website for updates on how the Canadian team does.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Canada is catching on...

It is terrific to see people in this country starting to take a deep interest in soccer. This year has been tremendous for this, with the construction of BMO Field in Toronto, the fantastic support for Toronto FC, Canada's run to the semifinals at the Gold Cup, and now the U-20 World Cup being held in Canada. There's always been some support for the world's game here in Canada, but the interest, and thus the coverage, has grown by leaps and bounds lately. It's been fantastic to have the ability to watch top-quality soccer more frequently. This year alone, Sportsnet has continued to lead the way with their trademark Premiership coverage, but they've also expanded to more Canadian matches than before (even if far too many are tape-delayed), and have started to cover Toronto FC as well. CBC has also rediscovered soccer, picking up some TFC games and televising most of the U-20 World Cup, while The Score has even gotten into the act with a few TFC games and a great soccer talk show.

Outside the TV realm, the rest of the media are also starting to pay some attention. Toronto FC have been getting quite a bit of press, while the U-20 World Cup has become the sporting event of the moment (except for perhaps yesterday's NHL free agent signings!). People are turning out to soccer matches in droves, particularly for the U-20 World Cup. Over 950, 000 tickets have been sold for this tournament, making it the largest sporting event Canada has ever held (yes, bigger than either Olympics to date), which is incredibly impressive.

The quality of soccer at the U-20 level is also very high: I was tremendously impressed with what I saw from the Canadian team in their warm-up friendly in Kingston last month, and the tournament games so far have been even better. I was in Montreal over the weekend for the Poland-Brazil/USA-Korea doubleheader, and both games displayed a tremendous level of soccer talent. If there was any doubt that soccer is now big in this country, the 55, 000 raucous fans under the dome in the "Big O" dispelled it. Canada had a tough time in their opener against Chile yesterday, but if they can turn it around, the interest will continue to build. Even if they are unable to make it out of the group stage, the quality of their players and the massive interest in the tournament here are both great signs for the future.