Lucky kids set to have a ball

ROB BRODIE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:31 AM ET

You'll never walk alone.

Liverpool supporters sing the words with gusto, and the national captains of some of the world's finest teenage soccer teams will soon feel it every time they take the field at Frank Clair Stadium.

On Saturday, 16 lucky youngsters from Ottawa-Gatineau will learn who gets to serve as "captain's escorts" for the eight FIFA Under-20 World Cup matches to be played here. As part of an international soccer tradition, each will accompany a team captain onto the field before their matches.

They're the local winners of a contest organized by SOS Children's Villages, which operates 'Let's Play. Let's Build,' the official charity campaign of the U-20 World Cup.

About 1,000 written or hand-drawn entries were received from children aged 6-12 nationwide, include 100 or so in this area.

"It's a chance for them to touch something that's so huge and so exciting," said Kelsey Lemon, the campaign's project leader for this event in Canada. "Soccer players and soccer teams are over the moon about this ... But I don't know who's more excited, the parents or the kids."

AIMING FOR $2.3M

The campaign raised $25 million US at the World Cup in Germany last year. Lemon said that allowed SOS to build six villages for orphaned and abandoned children in Africa. This year, the goal is $2.3 million (donations are being accepted at www.LetsPlayLetsBuild.ca).

Saturday's 2 p.m. event on the Sparks Street Mall will help spread some of the multicultural flavour an event like this brings to a host country. In front of CBC studios, spectators will be entertained by an Argentinian band, a Brazilian samba group, Korean dancers and African drummers.

The fever pitch surrounding the tournament keeps growing next week, when teams begin to arrive. The Czech Republic side arrives Tuesday, with Argentina -- a five-time U-20 champion -- Panama, and North Korea following a week later.

Brazil and the U.S. are also part of the fun at Frank Clair. Toronto, Edmonton, Montreal, Victoria and Burnaby, B.C., are the other host sites.

Play begins June 30 in Ottawa, when Panama takes on North Korea and Argentina faces the Czechs.

Local ticket sales have been brisk.

"We're exactly where we want to be coming out of hockey season," said Mike Winterburn, a local organizing committee spokesman. "We're hoping for more than 20,000 a game and we're right on track."


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