Kickoff for the future

ROB LONGLEY

, Last Updated: 10:22 AM ET

He was in Toronto merely as an observer, part of his country's delegation here to learn its early fate for this summer's Under-20 World Cup.

But when Luiz Felipe Scolari speaks, the soccer world listens. The head coach of the Portuguese men's national team was one of many soccer luminaries at the Liberty Grand Entertainment Centre last night for the event's official draw.

And Big Phil, as Scolari in known, had big talk for the biggest soccer event ever to be played on Canadian soil.

The field is now set for the 24-team, 52-match World Cup, which will be played in six Canadian cities throughout July. Billed as being second only to the men's World Cup in terms of global significance and appeal, Scolari will tell you why.

"This is where so many of the great players begin to make their fame," Scolari said through a translator. "This is where it all begins. Some of the great players in the world got their start in this tournament. Some you will see for many years."

Toronto fans may see plenty of the team Scolari hopes will provide him with future talent, which should go over well with the strong Portuguese community.

Organizers assigned Portugal to Toronto for that reason, hoping to fill the soon to be completed BMO Field, steps away from where yesterday's draw took place.

After playing its opener at the new stadium on Canada Day, the host team will move to Edmonton where the Alberta city's soccer fans have long supported our national teams.

Perennial world power Brazil takes over Montreal for most of its games, a key assignment designed to help fill sprawling Olympic Stadium.

Wherever the games are played, fans can expect to see stars ultimately destined for the sport's biggest stage.

"We realize that the big stars emerge from this tournament," U.S. coach Thomas Rongen said. "Be it Maradona (Argentina), be it Ronaldinho (Brazil), but it Nesti (Argentina) in the last one. This time around, there will be another big player that comes out of this."

The Americans will have their hands full, drawn into Group D against Brazil. When those two clash in Ottawa on July 6, it will be one of the most-watched games in the tournament.

Toronto gets a pair of attractive contests, starting with the host team's opener against the fiery Chilean squad on July 1. The second big clash at BMO Field features reigning under-17 champions Mexico against Portugal on July 5.

Ottawa did well by getting two world powers in the Czech Republic and defending-champion Argentina, who square off in a Group E clash on June 30.

Group play winds up on July 7, leading to the Round of 16 four days later. Toronto, Edmonton, Ottawa and Montreal play host to quarter-finals on July 14-15, with semis going to Edmonton and Toronto on July 18-19.

The 20,000-seat BMO facility at Exhibition Place -- future home to the Canadian men's team -- gets the final July 22.

With half a million tickets sold before spectators even knew who they would be seeing, organizers believe the event will be a huge hit in a country that often is lukewarm to supporting the game in person.

"To have sold 500,000 already is incredible," Canadian Soccer Association president Colin Linford said."We honestly believe that getting to 800,000 tickets is not beyond the realm. We see this as the start of improving the game within Canada and being seen as a serious soccer-playing nation."


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