Caps against the world

BOB MACKIN -- 24 Hours Vancouver

, Last Updated: 7:00 AM ET

The flags of China, India, Wales and Canada will fly at Swangard Stadium this week for the Vancouver Whitecaps first Nations Cup tournament.

Whitecaps meet India's national team tomorrow night (7 p.m.). China's under-20 team plays Cardiff City FC of Wales Friday night (7 p.m.).

Winners battle in Saturday night's final (7 p.m.). Losers play for third place late Saturday afternoon (4 p.m.). All matches are live on Shaw TV.

It's the start of a new tradition for the Whitecaps who hope to take advantage of a lull in the USL First Division schedule by giving players a new challenge and fans some bonus soccer.

"It's going to be good to get some of these guys logging tons of minutes a break, some of these guys off injury, maybe get them some game minutes, and some of these young guys a chance to prove themselves," said Whitecaps' captain Jeff Clarke. "So it's a win-win for everybody."

India's head coach is Bob Houghton, a globetrotting British expat whose career included a three-year stop helming the Toronto Blizzard in 1982 to 1984.

Blizzard were runners-up in 1983's Soccer Bowl championship at B.C. Place Stadium. Houghton is trying to elevate the game on the subcontinent where cricket dominates and soccer has only a national semi-professional league.

India, 2005's South Asian Football Federation cup-winners, was ranked 117th in FIFA's latest poll. Houghton wants to scour the planet for players of Indian origin who haven't committed to other countries.

Houghton's knowledge of the Chinese game will be useful should India meet China's under-20s on Saturday. He coached China's national team to its first World Cup berth in 2002.

China's juniors, coached by 1988 Asian footballer of the year Jia Xiuquan, are hoping to qualify this fall for next summer's FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Canada. The players will form the core of the under-23 team that will host the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics soccer tournament.

Cardiff City is expected to come with 300 noisy fans. The 107-year-old Bluebirds, who stopped en route for matches in Seattle and Nanaimo, play in the English Championship League, the old second division.

Perhaps club executives will have some words of advice for Whitecaps' president John Rocha because the 22-time Welsh champion and one-time F.A. Cup winner is also in the process of building a new stadium.

Whitecaps' goalkeeper Tony Caig will be prepared to meet Cardiff. Caig is a former Newcastle United Magpie, just like Cardiff's marquee off-season signing, Michael Chopra. The 22-year-old striker replaces Cameron Jerome, who was signed by Birmingham City.

Expect to see Josh Wicks spell off Caig, though Lilley said he might insert third-string netminder Serge Djekanovic into the lineup. Jamaican forward Gary Brooks, who joined the Whitecaps late last week, will see some action.

"What we don't want to do is not get something out of those games," Lilley said. "We'd like to do well in our own tournament and get better."

The Nations Cup happens the same weekend as Richmond's long-running Nations Cup community soccer jamboree and the Vancouver CultureFest at the Pacific National Exhibition grounds.


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