Soccer

Butler: Stuff of legend awaits Canada's U20s in Edmonton

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Nole Butler, TSN Radio 690
8/15/2014 2:29:55 PM
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My near-lifetime of attending football matches kicked off as a five-year-old snotty-nosed kid going to Craven Cottage with my family to watch Fulham play a West Ham team with that famous trio of World Cup winners - Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst.

And there was travelling up to rural Rotherham in 1981 to watch Chelsea get spanked 6-0 - at a time when this upcoming season's BPL title favourites were marooned in the bottom half of the second division. We should have heeded the ominous warning before setting out from London, as it was Halloween morning.

I've also had the utmost privilege of attending European and FA Cup Finals.

That all said, last Tuesday's U-20 game at Olympic Stadium vaults right into contention as one of my most unforgettable moments inside a football stadium.

I attended Tuesday's pivotal group stage game with our U-12 playing daughter. With Canada's team comprised of players the same ages as her two elder sisters, it really bought home to us the profound significance that our hometown was hosting the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup Finals.

By the sheer noise and electric atmosphere, you wouldn't have known there were only 13,000 in the very same stadium that jammed in over 60,000 when David Beckham's LA Galaxy played the Impact in 2012.

This was no more apparent than in the 65th minute, when Jeanine Beckie scored the lone goal of the game to send Canada into the quarter-finals and the crowd delirious at the final whistle.

That atmosphere wasn't lost on Nichelle Prince. "They were crazy, it was insane - especially with this huge stadium," she told the media post-game. "It was an honour to be able to play in it. The crowd was amazing."

As some filed out of the stadium at the final whistle, we stayed behind to fully soak up the on-field celebration and lap of honour.

The standout image was when the squad sprinted over to the section that their families sat in.

I have no problems admitting this bought a tear to the eye. I could only imagine the immense pride which most have been felt by players and families alike.

Think of all those countless hours over many years spent toiling on a training field and football pitch. And what must have coursed through their minds as the reward of a quarter-final at the World Cup now beckoned.

It was hard to imagine this was the very same team that, at halftime last Friday in Toronto, looked to be doing their best impression of our U-20s in 2007. That team ended up losing all their group stage matches and weren't even able to register a goal in those three matches.

Whatever was said at halftime - that inspired Canada to turning round the 0-2 score line against Finland with three unanswered second half goals - is truly the stuff of legend. Coincidentally, last Friday's victory was  a day removed from the second anniversary of that glorious London 2012 bronze medal match.

Toronto captured and Montreal enraptured. Now the scene shifts to Edmonton for Saturday night's
encounter with Germany - a team which certainly captured the eye in Tuesday's earlier game at Olympic Stadium.

The Germans were effortless as they stroked in goal after goal past a hapless and unrecognizable Brazil.

Where, I wonder, have we heard that before? 

Edmonton is sure to evoke and rekindle those extraordinary scenes and memories from the FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship in 2002.

That was when, on the back of 10 goals and an MVP performance from Christine Sinclair, the host nation made it all the way to the final. Four Canadians made it onto the All-Star Team.

Matched against our best football friends to the south in that final, it seemed we were heading for penalties until eventually becoming unstuck in the second half of extra time - courtesy of a Lindsay Tarpley winner.

In doing so, the 2002 U-19 final sowed the seeds for the biggest global rivalry in the women's game. This was on clear display at that now infamous London 2012 semifinal at Old Trafford.

Five of those Sinclair goals in 2002 came against England in the quarterfinal at Commonwealth Stadium.  A crowd of just over 23,000 was in attendance then.

A spike in the box office occurred after Tuesday's North Korea victory, with sales for the Germany quarter final already surpassing the 16,000 mark. So we're already guaranteed this will be the largest crowd of Canada 2014 so far.

Runners up in 2012 and champions in 2010, Germany - along with the French - are the two standout teams of the tournament. Stopping their trio of goal scorers in Diebritz, Bremer and Pamfil - who have already found the back of the net 11 times in only three matches - is a large part of the task that awaits our ladies.

Park the bus, Andrew Oliviera will not. 

We have a trio of stardust ourselves in Kadeisha Buchanan, Nichelle Prince and Janine Beckie. These players especially have been instrumental in that extraordinary turnaround in our fortunes, since halftime against Finland last Friday.

Make no mistake - if we advance, it will be against the odds. Our so-termed '12th Player' at Commonwealth Stadium has a significant role to play.

If Tuesday's final group stage game provided me with abiding memories, imagine what it could be like at Olympic Stadium in Montreal next Wednesday night.

A possible Canada-France semifinal matchup exists. 

Imagine that for a moment.

Noel.Butler@BellMedia.ca
@TheSoccerNoel on Twitter

U20 Canada (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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