Austria surprises at quiet Commonwealth

TERRY JONES, EDMONTON SUN

, Last Updated: 8:27 AM ET

As glamour games go, Austria versus Gambia doesn't really register.

Games with sizzle between sexy soccer countries have been few and far between on the front end of the FIFA U-20 World Cup mostly because the ones from Europe - Italy, England, France, Germany, Netherlands - didn't manage to get here.

But the glamour games are coming now.

Brazil-Spain last night in Burnaby.

USA vs. Uruguay last night in Toronto.

And tonight, at Commonwealth Stadium, Chile vs Portugal.

It's the round of 16 and now we're getting to the good stuff. But you wouldn't know it with an announced crowd of 18,721, about half of whom had purchased full tournament passes and decided to have a picnic or go to the opening of the latest Harry Potter movie instead.

Throughout the first 43 minutes, the no-shows looked like those in the know. But then a game worthy of a round-of-16 game broke out.

THINGS GOT INTERESTING

In the 43rd minute, with Austria leading 1-0, Gambia's Tijan Jaiteh was sent off to leave the Africans a man down for the duration.

Suddenly, they transformed into a go-go group, with the same sort of flash and dash as the Congo team which won the crowd over and came back from the same score to earn a draw against the Austrians to open the tournament here.

They got their goal.

In the end, as Erwin 'Jimmy' Hoffer came off the bench to score the winner for Austria, there were no lack of storylines.

Not the least of which was not where this Jimmy Hoffer was buried but why he was buried for the first 70 minutes of the game on the bench?

Hoffer, after all, came into the showcase event viewed as one of the top talents on the verge of becoming a superstar in the sport.

What we were dealing with here, as well, were great moments in soccer history for both nations.

Austria is a country which hadn't been in this event since 1983 and had never won a FIFA U-20 World Cup game before last week when they defeated Canada 1-0 here.

"Somehow I have to get used to holding media conferences," said coach Paul Gludovatz after it was over and Austria advanced against the U.S. in a quarter-final Saturday in Toronto.

"From what we hear, the emotions are very high at home. It's very special for Austria and for the players. They definitely have something to tell back home.

"And it's good for the Austria Football Association, too. Next year we're co-hosting Euro with Switzerland."

Gambia had never qualified for the tournament before but joined the other three African teams in getting through.

"Obviously the people are so proud of them back home," said coach Peter Johnson.

"It's a big success in Gambia and everybody is happy and proud. There were a lot of celebrations back home.

"Our players wanted to make a name for both themselves and Gambia. We only have two players playing in Europe."

SMALLER CROWD

Austrian coach Gludovatz laughed when asked if he was surprised to have such a small crowd when three times as many people would likely be in the stadium tonight for Portugal-Chile.

"No. We are all much more surprised we had so many to watch us play, that the crowds have been so good here," he said of playing three of their first four games in Edmonton.

"And sorry we beat Canada," he added.

Tonight will be a different deal as organizers expect Commonwealth Stadium to have a crowd pushing the 30,000-plus again - the first one which may watch the entire game.

In the first Canadian game here half the fans couldn't get into the stadium because of a ticket fiasco. In the second game, half the fans were driven away by a downpour and Canada's hopelessness by half time.

With 20,000 Portugese ex-patriots and 9,000 Chileans living in Edmonton, and similar sized groups in Calgary, the tournament will not only get rebooted tonight after the depressing departure of Canada without a win or a goal. And it should also feature the most crowd atmosphere we've seen here in the tournament so far.

Hopefully the game will turn out to be as good.


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