AN EX­PLO­SION OF SOC­CER EX­CITE­MENT

Ed­mon­ton should have ‘great hope’ of host­ing Canada match in 2026 World Cup

Edmonton Journal - - SPORTS - TERRY JONES tjones@post­media.com Twit­ter: @ByTer­ryJones

Canada be­came the 19th coun­try to be­come a World Cup host na­tion at sun­rise in host city Ed­mon­ton on Wed­nes­day.

The sun rose on an en­tirely new era in Cana­dian soc­cer with the 134-65 united bid of Canada-USA-Mex­ico win over now five­time loser Morocco.

“Over­whelm­ing,” said Cana­dian Soc­cer As­so­ci­a­tion Gen­eral Sec­re­tary Peter Mon­topoli, his voice break­ing over his cell­phone call from Moscow early Wed­nes­day of Ed­mon­ton, Toronto and Mon­treal play­ing host to an ex­pected three or four 2026 World Cup games each.

“When the vote was re­vealed and ‘Canada’ was the first word we heard, I was re­ally rocked. I was re­ally proud for our coun­try and ev­ery­body who was a part of this jour­ney.”

Mon­topoli vol­un­teered Ed­mon­ton was the fore­run­ner of the jour­ney.

“It’s a wa­ter­shed mo­ment for the sport in our coun­try, much like 2002 in Ed­mon­ton for women’s soc­cer. Let’s face it, that kick-started our devel­op­ment pro­gram. We don’t win Olympic medals in 2012 and 2016 and be the only na­tion to do that on both the men and women’s side.

“Host­ing in Ed­mon­ton in the 2002 fi­nal against the United States had an enor­mous ef­fect on what was to un­fold and we think this has every sem­blance of re­peat­ing it­self on the men’s side,” said Mon­topoli.

“I think in­ter­na­tion­ally peo­ple rec­og­nized Ed­mon­ton and its right to be a host of the 2026 World Cup. In­ter­na­tional peo­ple rec­og­nize the birth­place of women’s youth soc­cer in 2002 and where we went from there and some of the great matches Canada has brought there his­tor­i­cally.”

There should be an ex­plo­sion of ex­cite­ment to be part of the big­gest sports event in the world. There will be far more in­volved to this than the three or four games in each of the Cana­dian host cities. It’ll be eight years of buildup and other games as Canada pre­pares to play in only the sec­ond World Cup in our men’s soc­cer his­tory.

In the bid book, Canada was pro­jected to host 10 games, the first World Cup to fea­ture 48 teams and 80 matches. While all of this is to be de­ter­mined well down the road, Mon­topoli sug­gested Ed­mon­ton should hold out hope of play­ing host to a Cana­dian group game here.

“Ed­mon­ton should have great hope, not some hope. Great hope,” he said.

Who knows, we may even see Canada score a goal this time and even see it in Ed­mon­ton.

My first of five World Cup as­sign­ments was Mex­ico 1986, Canada’s only pre­vi­ous ap­pear­ance. Canada was based in Leon and Ira­pu­ato and didn’t score a goal against France, Hun­gary and the Soviet Union.

As was the case with the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in which the open­ing game was held in Ed­mon­ton’s Com­mon­wealth Sta­dium, there should be an ex­pec­ta­tion of a chance for that to hap­pen in the planned same day openers in Mex­ico, Canada and the USA. Hav­ing the open­ing group game in­volv­ing Canada would also be a trib­ute of how this hap­pened in the first place.

Canada as a World Cup host started with the FIFA U-19 Women’s World Cham­pi­onship in Ed­mon­ton in 2002 and in­spired FIFA pres­i­dent Sepp Blat­ter to de­clare it a “bal­lis­tic” suc­cess, that brought on the men’s and women’s U-20 World Cups and the Women’s World Cup with the most games (11) in Ed­mon­ton and the open­ing game here and the fi­nal in Van­cou­ver.

And can you imag­ine how the next eight years will go down in Van­cou­ver, where pro­vin­cial pol­i­tics elim­i­nated BC Place as a host venue?

“I have no emo­tions about Van­cou­ver. We’ve en­joyed our time build­ing the matches that we’ve had there. But it’s time to move on and it was their de­ci­sion. We ac­cept their de­ci­sion. We won the com­pe­ti­tion to­day and we look for­ward to the three Cana­dian cities and may­ors who agreed to be a part of it,” said Mon­topoli.

You can’t over­state what this re­sult will mean to the Cana­dian Premier League that will fea­ture five-star own­er­ship in most launch cities.

But it’s the in­spi­ra­tion of a World Cup that should re­sult in Canada, whose mem­bers of the team should be the likes of Ed­mon­ton’s 17-year-old Alphonso Davies, who was the lead speaker at the United Bid pre­sen­ta­tion, and kids who are 13, 14, 15 and 16 years old right now, who should cre­ate a rise from Canada’s 79th spot in the cur­rent world rank­ings and cre­ate the same dra­matic dif­fer­ence in Canada’s soc­cer cul­ture as Chris­tine Sin­clair and the women did be­fore them.

There’s so much more in­volved than those three or four games. Al­most cer­tainly there will be a lead-in match like Canada-Brazil that filled Com­mon­wealth Sta­dium in 1994 en route to Brazil win­ning it all.

And if you’ve been to a World Cup, you’ll know that the real fun isn’t just the three or four games but the out­door cel­e­bra­tions in the host cities fea­tur­ing games on big screen TVs and live en­ter­tain­ment from around the world every day through the event. It’s more than the world big­gest sports event. It’s the world’s great­est party. And in 2026 in Western Canada, Ed­mon­ton is go­ing to be party cen­tral.

ALEXAN­DER ZEMLIANICHENKO/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Del­e­gates of Canada, Mex­ico and the U.S. cel­e­brate Wed­nes­day with FIFA pres­i­dent Gianni In­fantino, right, af­ter win­ning a joint bid to host the 2026 World Cup. From left: Vic­tor Mon­tagliani, pres­i­dent of CONCACAF, De­cio de Maria, pres­i­dent of the Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion of Mex­ico, Car­los Cordeiro, U.S. soc­cer pres­i­dent and Steve Reed, pres­i­dent of the Cana­dian Soc­cer As­so­ci­a­tion.

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