Talk about getting a big kick at just the right time.
Ticket sales launched yesterday for the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup, and the timing couldn't be better for it all.
Just mere days after the conclusion of Germany 2006, a World Cup that captivated Canadians like never before and produced record television ratings in this country.
Football fever (as the rest of the world might put it), it's clear, remains in the air.
"Soccer is such a big thing right now," agreed John Gallo of the Canadian Soccer Association, the ticket director for the U-20 World Cup's Ottawa venue. "(The sport) got a lot of media exposure from the World Cup. It's a great time for soccer in Canada."
FIFA bills next year's event, set for June 30-July 22, as being second in size and scope among its events (only the World Cup itself is considered bigger). Clearly, it's soccer's biggest moment on Canadian soil, and a tournament that CSA officials believe this country will embrace.
"We're hoping it will be the largest (single) sports event ever held in Canada," said Gallo. "We expect to sell more than 500,000 tickets to watch the games."
Plenty of those ducats figure to be scooped up here in the capital, where Frank Clair Stadium -- one of six venues -- will play host to eight matches (three preliminary round doubleheaders, plus one Round of 16 game and a quarter-final).
The rest of the 52-match affair will be scattered in Montreal, Toronto, Edmonton, Victoria and Burnaby, B.C. The July 22 final is set for the new 20,000-seat national soccer stadium presently under construction at Exhibition Place in Toronto.
And it's soccer's version of the world junior hockey championship, so to speak -- a breeding ground for the beautiful game's future stars. The legendary Diego Maradona played in the U-20 World Cup (then known as the world youth championship). So did international stars Thierry Henry, Raul, Marco Van Basten, Luis Figo, Adriano, Kaka and Roberto Carlos, to name a few.
Two years ago in the Netherlands, Lionel Messi -- deemed the heir apparent to Maradona -- scored twice as Argentina edged Nigeria 2-1 for the crown.
That kind of pedigree alone figures to attract soccer fans. It won't matter that the matchups for the 24-country event remain a mystery until the tournament draw next February, after qualifications are finally complete. No preliminary-round games involving Canada will be played in Ottawa -- two will be Edmonton and one in Toronto.
Then again, an extra push from Germany 2006 isn't exactly hurting the cause.
"We've received a lot of phone calls and e-mails (in the wake of the World Cup)," said Gallo.
Ticket packages for the Ottawa venue range from $105-$125, and guarantee you a seat for all eight matches. They're available for purchase at FIFA.com, or by calling 1-866-662-3452. A special rate of $60 is available for the Ottawa soccer community. For more info about these passes, contact Gallo at 237-7678, ext. 255, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SPRING IN HIS STEP: With a fifth-place finish in double mini-trampoline, Cedric Belisle of Ottawa's Spring Action club distinguished himself well at the Indo-Pacific trampoline and tumbling championships this week in South Africa. Belisle qualified to represent Canada at the meet with a top performance at the Canada Cup in Vancouver earlier this year. "Cedric has always been an extremely focused and hard-working athlete. There is no stopping him," said Spring Action competitive coach Heather Ross-McManus, an Athens Olympian.
WORLDS APART: Five of nine Canadian juniors reached the semi-finals in their events at the junior world whitewater slalom kayak championships last weekend in Solkan, Slovakia. None, however, got the top 10 result required to paddle in the finals. Ottawa's Spencer Pomeroy recorded the top Canadian finish, placing 20th in the C-1 semi-final after qualifying 24th. Chelsea's Julian Potvin-Bernal finished 33rd. In women's K-1, Kathleen Tayler was 37th.
WISHES GRANT-ED: Seven local amateur sports groups have been awarded Bell Community Sport Fund grants, ranging from $5,000 to $25,000, to assist in boosting access to youth sport. Area winners included the Ottawa Internationals, Gloucester Hornets and Almonte soccer clubs, the City of Ottawa (City Wide Sports), Canada One Hockey-Ottawa Nighthawks, Admaston Recreation Committee (Renfrew) and South Dundas Soccer Association (Iroquois).
AROUND THE AMATEUR SCENE: Ottawa's James Baker, Jason Dunkerley, Jason Lachance and Chelsea Lariviere have been named to the Canadian team for the International Paralympic Committee athletics world championships, Sept. 2-10 in Assen, Netherlands ... Ottawa resident Ryan Murdock was recently inducted into the International Martial Arts Hall of Fame in the master instructor of the year category.