It is often said that the role of hosts is double edged. However, despite the obvious pressures of playing before your own people, the benefits most often outweigh the negatives.
For example, in the 77-year, 18-instalment history of the FIFA World Cup, never has a host nation failed to reach the knockout stages. The history of the FIFA U-20 World Cup (formerly the FIFA World Youth Championship) is similarly rife with anecdotal evidence of the advantages offered the host nation, even considering the tournament sometimes takes place in less well-known footballing destinations like Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Malaysia.
Only five of the 15 hosts so far have failed to reach the second round, and the last four (Nigeria, Argentina, UAE and Holland) all navigated their groups successfully. Canada coach Dale Mitchell, for one, will be hoping to keep the trend going this summer on familiar fields.
"I mean, we're hosting the event, so if we didn't come out of the first stage and reach the last 16, we'll be disappointed," said Mitchell, who was a member of the only Canadian side to reach a FIFA World Cup back in 1986. "So somewhere between the last 16 and the last eight, I think given the level of teams you are going to see at this tournament, would be a good accomplishment for us."
Last week, after several months of suspense, Mitchell was rewarded for his consistent service to Canadian soccer by being named senior national team boss. He will take over his new post immediately following the U-20 finals in July. But far from a lame duck, the no-nonsense coach is keen to leave his current position on a high.
"I am focussed squarely on the job at hand," Mitchell, who has coached Canada at the last two FIFA U-20 World Cups including a best-ever quarter-final finish at UAE 2003, told FIFA.com. "We have a strong team with a number of good, quality players coming back for a second U-20 World Cup (six in all, including star David Edgar, Jaime Peters and Andrea Lombardo). And with the home crowd behind you, that can be a bit of an advantage, a bit of a boost for the boys. I think hopefully that can make a difference"
One player who, most likely, will not be lining up to help the Canuck cause this summer is the highly rated Jonathan de Guzman. Brother of Deportivo la Coruna and Canada senior international Julian, Jonathan - who plays for Feyenoord but was born in and lived in Toronto until he was twelve - looks unlikely to commit his future to Canada in time for the finals.
"I plan to talk to him (Jonathan) again," Mitchell recently remarked about the teenage sensation who holds out hopes of playing for the Netherlands. "But at some point he will have to make a decision about his international career. We've made attempts to get him to pledge his future to Canada, but it doesn't look like we'll get him for this summer."
The Final countdown?
The Canadians recently stretched defending world champions Argentina to the 91st minute in what turned out to be a losing effort (2-1), and have been improving over the course of an exhaustive training camp, according to Mitchell.
"The preparations are going very well," the coach, who saw his side beat Brazil just a few months ago, went on to add. "We had a good game against Argentina and the boys did very well. I look at our team and I think we are going to be able to compete at the world level. Winning matches is very difficult - mistakes are punished fiercely at that level - but we have a competitive, talented group and the boys are going to play their hearts out."
Stuck in a tough group, alongside Chile, Austria and African champions Congo, Mitchell is taking nothing for granted - even with the advantages associated with the hosts' role. "On your day, playing at home, we believe we can get some results playing against these teams," he said. "But Chile is every bit as good as Argentina or Brazil and the other two team will be no pushovers."
Banking on history, experience in the squad and some wild fans up in the Great White North, the Canada coach and his young charges will be keen on turning home cooking into a second-round berth this summer…or maybe more. "It would be a heck of an achievement if these boys could reach the final," Mitchell concluded. "But who knows, stranger things have happened."