Chilean measuring stick

Canadian under-20 players Gabriel Gala (left) and Kennedy Owusu-Ansahstanding pose in front of a...

Canadian under-20 players Gabriel Gala (left) and Kennedy Owusu-Ansahstanding pose in front of a Good Luck banner at the Sheraton Centre yesterday. (Sun Media/Alex Urosevic)

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:38 AM ET

If national team coach Dale Mitchell knows his Chilean foe well, then 20,000 shouting, stomping, flag-waving Canada Day fans won't likely scare the soccer savvy South Americans into mailing in the opener of the FIFA under-20 World Cup at BMO Field.

"Let's just say Chile is used to playing in a hostile environment," Mitchell said with a wry grin yesterday at the team's downtown hotel. "But that's why I feel good about playing a team like that right away. They're fast, they're skillful and they can close you down very quickly. So we're going to see where we stack up right away."

Mitchell's team, two years in the making, gets its first Group A test against Chile at 7:45 p.m. on Sunday, and has tailored its practices the next few nights around that kick-off time.

HOST NATION

Canada is in this tournament as the host nation, but based on home-field advantage here and in Edmonton, plus Mitchell's observations in practice the past week and a roughly .500 record in friendlies, the coach expects to show well against Chile, Austria and Congo in Group A.

"We're certainly not developed to the stage where we can disregard what any of the other teams do (in terms of strategy)," Mitchell said. "But we have to be aware of taking advantage of our chances and doing what we do best.

"We've played teams such as Argentina, Scotland the United States and done well in many of the games. But those were friendlies and now there are real points on the line, games matter."

Canada has a veteran team by U-20 standards. Players on club teams overseas include David Edgar of Kitchener and Toronto FC's own Andrea Lombardi.

If TFC's success in uniting so many soccer factions in this town is any indication, then the multi-national community will give the red and white a huge boost on Sunday. Mitchell was on the field 21 years ago when Canada won probably its biggest game on native soil, beating Honduras in St. John's, Nfld., to qualify for the 1986 World Cup.

If a few thousand fans on the windswept Rock could inspire that team, the packed new national stadium should be of huge benefit should the young Canadians go deep into the 24-nation tournament.

Sunday's game has been sold out for months and a huge good luck banner signed by fans hangs in the players' dining area at their hotel.

"I think Sunday is going to be the memory of a lifetime for many of us," Lombardo said. "I was partying along St. Clair with everyone else when Italy won the World Cup last year. That's something I would love to see happen again here if Canada can win some games. I've had a taste of how good the crowd can be in Toronto from my FC games.

"We're not intimidated by this tournament. We've waited two years, we prepared well and we know what to expect. We can't wait to get going and hopefully come out with three points on Sunday."

After Sunday's game, Canada plays Austria on July 5, then Congo there on July 8, both in Edmonton.


Videos

Photos