Ottawa gets thumbs up

FIFA vice-president Jack Warner has a ball playing soccer with students from First Avenue Public...

FIFA vice-president Jack Warner has a ball playing soccer with students from First Avenue Public School during a FIFA site evaluation at Frank Clair Stadium Monday. (Ottawa Sun/Blair Gable)

CHRIS OCCHIUZZI -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 7:44 AM ET

The city of Ottawa and Frank Clair Stadium have passed the first FIFA test.

On a tour of the six host cities for the 2007 under-20 World Cup in Canada, FIFA vice-president and chairman Jack Warner was quite taken by his visit to the nation's capital.

"I am very impressed with what I've seen so far," Warner said yesterday while standing on the pitch at Frank Clair.

"The facility continues to be what I admire and appreciate. I look at the setting here, I find it very picturesque," Warner said as he looked east towards the Rideau Canal. "This is, for me, more of the ideal facilities in the whole six venues. I am extremely pleased to report to FIFA on the progress I've seen."

The real challenge will be to successfully host the six round-robin and two knockout round matches slated for July 2007 at Frank Clair.

At that point, everything from ticket sales and merchandise to the product on the field is going to be under a microscope.

Organizers will be missing some big-time soccer countries from the event. Italy, England, Germany and France all failed to qualify.

STRONG SUPPORT

All those European nations boast strong support in Canada and their absence could be a big loss at the gate. But Warner isn't worried about which nations didn't qualify.

"First of all, Brazil will be in, Argentina will be in, China will be in and Portugal will be in," said Warner, a Trinidad and Tobago native. "And for a start, that will do the sport here a tremendous good. Because those four countries alone will be enough to draw the kind of audience that you want ... At the end of the day, there will be 24 good teams here to give you a very good show."

Spain, Scotland, Austria, Poland and the Czech Republic have also booked their spots in the event, while some qualifying is still to be completed.

It was agreed that in order for the tournament to be truly successful, the Canadian squad must do well.

"What is important for Canada as a host nation is to ensure that their team is competitive," said Warner.

Canadian Soccer Association COO Kevan Pipe says 20 exhibition matches have already been planned for Canada's side in preparation for the championship.

"Our goal is to try to replicate what we did in U.A.E. in 2003 where we finished in the quarter-finals," said Pipe. "We beat Brazil earlier this year, two weeks ago we beat the Czech Republic in Prague.

"This team will be prepared to the hilt, and the progress that we've seen so far on the field of play has been very, very encouraging."

FIELDS OF DREAMS

Ottawa was also declared an official FIFA city yesterday, with Mayor Bob Chiarelli announcing plans to construct 100 full and kid-size soccer fields throughout the city.

The mayor also declared soccer as the official sport of Ottawa for 2007. To hear Chiarelli tell it, the city will go from being hockeytown to soccertown.

"Soccer has more players in the National Capital Region than hockey," he said.


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