Canada's kids can restore pride at U-20 World Cup | Soccer | CBC Sports

SoccerCanada's kids can restore pride at U-20 World Cup

Posted: Thursday, February 14, 2013 | 01:24 AM

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Team Canada kicks off its u-20 qualifying campaign on Monday in the central Mexican city of Puebla. (Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images) Team Canada kicks off its u-20 qualifying campaign on Monday in the central Mexican city of Puebla. (Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images)

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The Under-20 World Cup has long been a coming out party for an abundance of future stars, and Canada isn't prepared to take anything for granted.
There is a World Cup to play for. Not the World Cup you understand, but a World Cup nonetheless.

It is one not to be sniffed at. The Under-20 version has long been a coming out party for an abundance of future stars. 

Remember 2007? Canada played host and Sergio Aguero hogged centre stage in leading Argentina to glory with six goals. He wasn't the only protege to shine. Luis Suarez, Juan Mata, Alexandre Pato and Alexis Sanchez all prospered across the Great White North.

Canada, too, showcased its own soon-to-be household name. Asmir Begovic - then an unknown goalkeeper barely out of his teens - represented his adopted country but could do little to save the hosts from a series of group losses. 

He should have been Canada's starting goalie for at least the next decade. Failing to cap tie Begovic, later lured by his native Bosnia, as a senior international, remains a huge blot on the Canadian soccer landscape. Now, at age 25, the former Edmontonian is rated among the top keepers in the English Premier League.  

Six years later Canada has a chance to rejoin the party. Having missed the last two editions, and with their senior counterparts undergoing a major transition after again failing to reach the final round of World Cup qualifying, these young Canadians have an opportunity to grab the spotlight.

The task ahead is straightforward. Advance from the group and win one more game. Mission accomplished - start packing for Turkey in June. Easier said than done of course, but Canada is a country desperately in need of a soccer pick-me-up.

Dare we say the signs are encouraging? Pre-tournament results have generally gone well and Canada's head coach Nick Dasovic is cautiously optimistic.

'Good group of kids'

"We've got a good group of kids" he said. "We beat the [United] States, we beat Costa Rica on the build up [to qualifying]...we've got some depth...[we have] a very disciplined squad and a little bit of flair, something that can change a game"

Sounds promising eh? All the more promising when you consider Canada's likely passage to the U-20 World Cup. A quarter-final win would be sufficient since the top four teams in the CONCACAF region all qualify. Canada's last eight opponents will almost certainly be either the aforementioned U.S. or Costa Rica.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. First there is a triangular group from which Canada must emerge. First up it is Cuba followed four days later by a clash with Nicaragua. On the face of it the young Canucks should be able to handle both but Dasovic is taking nothing for granted.

"Nicaragua can play - they've got passion," said Dasovic. "We need to have that mentality - to go for the jugular. Cuba is relatively unknown but it comes down to limiting your with freedom but be very disciplined. These games are going to be very, very difficult."

Difficult, but by no means impossible. It is a learning process for all. Due to the age group restriction, most players only get one chance to qualify for and participate at the U-20 World Cup. These are players on the cusp of a professional career and the chance to compete against their peers at this level can prove an invaluable part of their soccer education.

Dasovic, meanwhile, is doing his utmost to protect his youngsters from the limelight. 

"I think they're all aware of what's ahead of us, what it means" he said. "The kids don't need the added pressure right now [but] it's a great opportunity for them to go and play in a great tournament".

Canada kicks off its qualifying campaign on Monday in the central Mexican city of Puebla. A win and a tie would ensure progress to the knock out stages and Dasovic expects his players to rise to the occasion.

"People are saying good things about this team and hopefully we can pull through," he said.

Here's hoping.

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