Ottawa's 'FIFA fever'

ROB BRODIE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 1:06 PM ET

You can feel it in the air, that wonderful festive atmosphere that follows the world's game wherever it goes.

Whenever the biggest tournaments of them all take place.

The buzz is clearly building for the FIFA Under-20 World Cup, which is already living up to its billing as the biggest single-sport event ever held in Canada. More than 750,000 tickets have been sold nationwide for the 24-team tournament, which kicks off Saturday at Frank Clair Stadium and Montreal's Olympic Stadium. Matches will also be played in Toronto, Edmonton, Victoria and Burnaby, B.C.

In Ottawa, 20,000 tickets have already been sold for Saturday's opening doubleheader: Argentina vs. the Czech Republic and Panama vs. North Korea.

HARDY SUPPORTERS

At least 21,000 ticket-holders will watch Brazil take on the U.S. July 6.

"It's FIFA fever," local organizing committee spokesman Mike Winterburn said after the Argentines made their much-anticipated arrival at the Ottawa Airport yesterday afternoon.

The team's Delta flight from Buenos Aires, via Atlanta, was delayed by more than an hour. But that didn't dampen the spirit of the small but hardy group of supporters -- all clad in the country's famed blue and white -- who anxiously waited for their soccer heroes.

The five-time champs, the glamour side among the four based in Ottawa, had a weary look as they marched through the airport to a waiting bus. But several players broke out in warm smiles at the sight of Argentina flags sure to wave with great fervour every time they hit the Frank Clair pitch.

'IT'S AN HONOUR

"Everybody is so excited," said Patricia Pinciaroli, president of the Argentine Canadian Association. "To have this opportunity in Ottawa, to have Argentina playing (here) three times ... it's an honour, it's a huge party. I think everybody will enjoy the games."

Argentine Ambassador Arturo Bothomley, who greeted the players at the airport, has no doubt Ottawa will welcome his country's team "with open hearts and open arms."

Back home? Even with its hallowed national side also playing at the Copa America in Venezuela, Bothomley said: "I know my fellow countrymen. They will follow these matches. It's at the heart of our people."

But can this be the tournament to push soccer into the mainstream in Canada like never before? Three young Canadians of Argentine heritage think the answer is yes.

"This is definitely going to improve Canada's future in soccer, especially with (this tournament) coming here and all the future stars of the World Cup," said Sebastian Lazaro, 16, who plans to attend all eight tourney matches in Ottawa with his brother Miguel. "It's going to be great."

Added John Fernandez, 17: "It's a chance to boost the popularity of the sport. We have players like Sergio Aguero ... Him coming here, it definitely creates a bigger impact for soccer in Canada."


Videos

Photos