Keeper of the future

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:16 AM ET

It's a safe bet Canada will only go as far in the FIFA Under-20 World Cup as Asmir Begovic takes them.

The Bosnian-born, Edmonton-raised goalkeeper is one of a handful of Canadian players taking part in their second world soccer championship at the Under-20 level.

He'll be key when Canada kicks off the tournament on July 1 in Toronto.

"We'll lean heavily on his experience," said Canadian head coach Dale Mitchell. "We have half a dozen guys that played in the tournament the last time. Asmir was one of them and he played an important position for us being a goalkeeper."

Begovic is touted as Canada's goaltender of the future at the senior level.

13 MATCHES

He's played in 13 matches at the Under-20 level, his first coming in December 2004 when he was only 17.

"He's a good talker from the back and has a good presence in the net," Mitchell said. "Goalkeeping at a tournament like this is important. He needs to play well for us to do well in this tournament."

Begovic, 19, is currently property of Portsmouth of the English Premier League. He's back home this weekend preparing for Monday's exhibition game against the Czech Republic (7 p.m.) at Commonwealth Stadium.

The game is the final tune-up for Canada in preparation for the World Cup tournament.

The team has played five exhibition games so far this calendar year and go into tomorrow's game on the heals of an impressive 4-0 win over the United States in Kingston earlier this month.

"The Czechs are a top team," Begovic said. "They're a very strong side, they're one of the best in the world. They're very well organized. We're going to have to be on top of our game to play against them and build some confidence for the tournament."

As host of the Under-20 World Cup the pressure will be on the Canadian team to at least get out of the group stage.

Only twice has Canada ever managed to do that. They made it to the second round of the 1997 championships in Malaysia and to the quarter-finals of the 2003 tournament in the United Arab Emirates.

Two years ago in the Netherlands, Canada lost two of their three group matches and failed to make it past the first round. After tying Syria 1-1, the Canadians lost 2-0 to Colombia and 4-1 to Italy.

"I think that experience in the Netherlands was huge," Begovic said.

"Obviously there's going to be a little bit more pressure playing here at home, it's a little bigger stage for us. But playing against the best talent in the world then only helped us in our development for this tournament.

"It's only going to do good things for us."

OPEN AGAINST CHILE

At this year's tournament, Canada was drawn in a group with Chile, the Congo and Austria. They'll open the tournament against Chile in Toronto, then play their final two group matches in Edmonton.

"For us we need to get out of the group. That first game against Chile is going to be a monster of a game," Begovic said. "They're coming in here with high expectations to win the tournament. We have to get through that game, come to Edmonton, play our last two games here and finish the deal. Once you get through that group phase anything is possible. You just have to take it one game at time from there and if we keep building momentum we're going to go far."


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