U-20 Cup on the ball

FIFA vice-president Jack Warner and under-20 World Cup organizer Bruce Thomas share a chuckle and a...

FIFA vice-president Jack Warner and under-20 World Cup organizer Bruce Thomas share a chuckle and a soccer ball during a news conference updating the tournament. (Toronto Sun/Craig Robertson)

DEAN McNULTY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:24 AM ET

It should be a sell-out crowd when Canada plays its opening game for the 2007 FIFA under-20 World Cup soccer tournament.

The national junior team will make its tournament debut July 1 in Toronto against an opponent to be determined on March 3 when the official draw will take place at the new BMO stadium at Exhibition Place.

Tickets are going fast. The first 2,000 of 20,000 tickets available for each of the under-20 games in Toronto already have been allocated for FIFA officials.

Bruce Thomas, head of the Toronto organizing committee, said yesterday that the group has sold nearly 20% of the 234,000 tickets available for the 13 games in Toronto.

He said all tickets -- 18,000 to each game -- will be available to the general public.

"We expect and will get great corporate support for these games," Thomas said. "But there will not be huge blocks of tickets set aside for corporations. They will have to get their tickets the same way the public does."

All of the tickets, he said, will be reserved seating.

FIFA, meanwhile, is investigating allegations that some of its officials -- including vice-president Jack Warner -- sold their allocated tickets to this year's World Cup in Germany at huge profits.

Warner, who was in Toronto yesterday as part of FIFA inspection process of the BMO site, refused to answer questions on the alleged ticket scandal.

"This is not the time or place to discuss this matter," Warner said. "If there was an iota of truth to the allegations I would not be here."

If the opening game featuring Canada isn't enough to lure soccer fans in Toronto, it was announced yesterday that FIFA has designated Portugal as the "home" side in any games it plays here.

With about 500,000 people of Portuguese decent in the area, organizers hope that will help sell the tournament.

"It is our wish that everybody in Toronto will have Maple Leaf flags on their cars during the event," Canadian Soccer Association boss Kevan Pipe said. "We want our young players to grow up wanting to play for Canada and not for the country of their fathers or mothers."

But the Canadian under-20 team will move its base to Edmonton after the opening kick, making Portugal the logical choice as home club in Toronto.

Pipe said ticket sales have been strong in all six cities (Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Edmonton, Burnaby and Victoria) that will play host to games.

"Of 520,000 tickets available we have already sold 350,000," he said. "And we believe that we will sell out all of the seats."

If the organizers reach their goal, it would make the Under 20 World Cup the largest single sporting event held in Canada.


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