Chile reception?

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:59 AM ET

TORONTO -- Jaime Peters recalls the first time he appeared in a soccer tournament.

"I was playing for Wexford in Scarborough (Ont.) and our team of 7-to-10 year olds went to the Mini-World Cup," recalled the Team Canada midfielder.

"All the teams picked the name of a country out of a hat. We were Colombia."

Peters did not mark the attendance that day, but chances are the FIFA Under-20 World Cup is going to lure a few more fans to watch him.

Almost one million tickets have been sold for the 52-match tournament in six Canadian cities, which begins today in Ottawa and tomorrow when Canada plays Chile at the national soccer stadium (BMO Field) in Toronto.

The record for a U-20 is 1.1 million fans in Mexico City a few years ago and the global TV audience could reach 500 million by the time the final is played here again on July 22.

"This is going to be exciting, being in front of our family and our fans," said Peters, who plays for Ipswich Town in England.

"Chile is a strong opponent, but if we do well, it will mean a lot for us later in the tournament."

Canada is in Group A with Chile, Austria and the Congo, trying to get out of the first round in this biennial event for the first time since 2003 when it made eighth in the United Arab Emirates.

SANCHEZ SUSPENDED

Canada got a huge break when FIFA suspended Chilean star forward Alexis Sanchez for tomorrow after an incident during South American qualifying.

But Canadian coach Dale Mitchell warned against getting too gleeful, in what's unquestionably the toughest of the three pool games.

Chile was fourth in South American qualifying, but should have done better, according to observers.

"The thing about group play is that you see different styles from around the world," Mitchell said. "Austria is very technical, Congo very athletic."

Mitchell will be leaning on at least five vets from the 2005 U-20 with club experience; goalie Asmir Begovic (Edmonton/Portsmouth), defender David Edgar (Kitchener/Newcastle), Peters, midfielder Will Johnson (Toronto/Heerenveen) and Andrea Lombardo (Toronto/TFC).

Many in that class were Canada's best players in a 2-1 loss to Argentina in a friendly a few weeks ago, which gave Canada hope it can play a strong positional game to counter the speed demons from Chile.

But Peters has some game-breaking quickness to the outside and Mitchell knows the likes of Lombardo and Johnson can score, if someone delivers them the ball.

Soccer analyst Dick Howard said the younger age bracket makes this competition much more unpredictable than the World Cup.

'FIRST 15 MINUTES'

"World Cup is chess, but under-20 is checkers," Howard said. "In World Cup, you know your opponent well, because you might play on the same club team or in the same league. But here, the players are more (creative) and they will also make mistakes that open up a game. The first 15 minutes are going to be important for Canada (tomorrow)."

Mitchell says his team is healthy after a scare that Edgar might not be available tomorrow.


Videos

Photos