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Soccer fever alive in Canada

<p>Attendance at Under-20 FIFA soccer games in Canada — including those in Ottawa</p>

U-20 World Cup breaks national attendance mark with 32 games still to play



TIM WIECLAWSKI/METRO OTTAWA


Alexandre Pato, left, the star striker for the Brazilian team, and American midfielder Danny Szetela were both spotted yesterday brushing up on their opponent’s language in advance of today’s meeting between Brazil and the United States at Ottawa’s Frank Clair Stadium, for one of the most anticipated matches of the FIFA U-20 World Cup. Szetela has scored three goals in two games during the tourney, while Pato has two.





Attendance at Under-20 FIFA soccer games in Canada — including those in Ottawa — has set a new record as the single-largest sporting event ever held in the nation, officials announced yesterday.





In total, more than 444,000 people have attended the first 20 games of the tournament in various Canadian cities, with the average attendance at games ringing in at just over 22,000.





Fans should now make it their goal to make this the best-attended FIFA U-20 World Cup tourney ever, said Jack Warner, FIFA vice-president and the organizing committee chairman. That record was set 24 years ago in Mexico when 1.155 million spectators took in the tournament games in 1983.





Fans in Ottawa have been contributing to the plump numbers, with the Frank Clair Stadium venue nearly selling out the first two nights the city hosted games. And a sellout is expected tonight for two of the most anticipated matchups of the tournament: four-time FIFA U-20 champion Brazil — led by its 17-year-old superstar striker Alexandre Pato — is meeting the United States, with its star player Freddy Adu.





And five-time tourney champs Argentina will also play the enigmatic North Korean team.





Soccer is popular in Canada, but not a hotbed spectator sport as in other countries. Still, Humberto da Rocha, the administrator for the Brazilian U-20 team, said he is not surprised by the fan support the





FIFA tourney has seen in this country. The high quality soccer, played by the future stars of the game, is what’s drawing the crowds.





“This is an unusual event for Canada,” he said through a translator yesterday. “People come to the stadium to see the spectacle. They want to see good games and scoring.”





With 32 games still remaining — and two-thirds of those already sold out — the 1983 record is within reach, organizers believe. Tonight’s games here will go a long way to boosting the total, with the cumulative attendance expected to top 50,000 people for the two games in Ottawa alone.





To enhance the experience, the free FIFA Fan Zone at the southeast corner of the stadium will be expanded.





A samba band will be belting out Brazilian beats, while children run though a skills competition and shoot-out for prizes. Sony will be demonstrating the PS3 and showing new face-recognition technology and





FIFA’s SOS Children’s Villages charity will be accepting donations.


 
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