Ahead of the game

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:00 AM ET

Officially the FIFA Under-20 World Cup kicked off yesterday.

But local organizers have a couple of extra days to prepare for the biggest single sporting event ever hosted in this country.

Tomorrow Austria and Congo meet at Commonwealth Stadium (5:45 p.m.) in the first of nine games taking place in Edmonton.

"We're actually ahead of schedule," said Val Close the FIFA general manager of the Edmonton site. "So (today) when we do a full technical rehearsals, we should be done, barring any tweaks and changes we might have to make. We're glad to be ahead of schedule."

UNDERWAY

Yesterday the 24-team event got underway with games in Montreal and Ottawa.

Both sites hosted double-headers.

Today Victoria and Burnaby host a pair of matches each while Canada makes its debut against Chile in Toronto.

The Canadians will then make their way out west to face Austria on Thursday and Congo next Sunday at Commonwealth Stadium.

Along with six group matches, Edmonton is playing host to a pair of second round games, a quarterfinal and a semifinal.

"We still have an issue with the field," Close said. "We're still trying to cover up the football markings on the field. You can't really notice them when you're on the field, but when you're up in the media tribune where the TV cameras are shooting you can still see the numbers. So we still have some work to do with the stadium maintenance to paint over the lines a little bit more."

Local organizers were caught off guard when the Edmonton Eskimos were scheduled to play their home opener on Thursday, just four days before the first World Cup game taking place at Commonwealth Stadium.

"Other stadiums had seven to 10 days to set up, - we had three," Close said.

"We didn't find out until the 12th of January that the Eskimos were going to have a game here on the 28th of June. Our plan was to be in here seven days prior to the event to set up. So that was a surprise to us."

Apart from changing the markings on the field, organizers had to get all the proper advertising boards up throughout the stadium and set up a world-class media centre, none of which could be started on until the Eskimos vacated the stadium.

"One of the other challenges that we've got is that we have to do all this during a long weekend," Close said. "It's tough to get a hold of people.

"We've had to push our service providers to put in that extra time if there are changes that need to be made. If it would have been on weekdays it might have been a different story. It's tough to get things organized on a weekend much less a on a long weekend to boot. It's unfortunate we were put in this position."

AUSTRIA AND CONGO

Regardless, everything should be ready to go by the time first ball is set to be kicked tomorrow. By the time Austria and Congo take the field, the tournament will already be in full swing. Tomorrow's game between the African youth champions and European qualifier is the 11th of the tournament. There are 52 games in total with the final taking place on July 22 in Toronto.

"I'm anxious to just get that first game over with," Close said. "When you've been planning and working on something like this for so long, it be nice just to get through that first game. And that first game it's good to see what works and what didn't. Then you have a chance to improve and change and tweak things."

So far the over 900,000 tickets for the event have been sold nationwide. Yesterday's opener in Montreal that saw Poland beat Brazil 1-0 drew over 55,000 at the Olympic Stadium.

Nearly 20,000 tickets have been sold for tomorrow's opener in Edmonton. The two group games featuring Canada have sold close to 25,000.

"Right now we're into every form of media in terms of promoting the event," Close said. "We have ads in newspapers, radio and television. I'd say if you don't know this event's in town you're living under a rock."


Videos

Photos