Three, two, one... Canada!

Finally, after months of eager anticipation, the world's finest youth players are on Canadian soil, ready and waiting to get the action underway. And the setting could hardly be more ideal. From the gentle summer temperatures to the lush greenery, and of course the characteristic friendliness and open nature of the Canadian people, the 24 finalists are sure to feel right at home. Ticket sales have been equally encouraging, with total sales of well over 900,000 recorded a week prior to the tournament.

A matter of hours before the big kick-off, brings you everything you need to know about the biggest youth competition on the world football scene.

24 teams in the mix
As has been the case for the last ten years, 24 national teams are taking part in the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2007, making it the second biggest competition in the FIFA calendar.

Worth a special mention among this year's crop of competing teams are the four debutants, Congo and Gambia from Africa, and Asia's Jordan and Korea DPR. The Jordanians' achievements in getting this far deserves particular praise, Canada 2007 marking their first-ever appearance at a FIFA tournament since becoming a member of world football's governing body over half a century ago in 1956.

In stark contrast is the situation of Argentina, a team that has dominated the world youth scene in recent years. Under the steady hand of Hugo Tocalli, the Albiceleste will be looking to add to their record haul of five FIFA U-20 World Cup wins, which includes four of the last six editions of the prestigious competition. Spearheaded by the sumptuous attacking exploits of Atletico de Madrid starlet Sergio Kun Aguero, title number six would appear to be well within their reach.

Harbouring serious ambitions of their own are perennial contenders Brazil. Names to watch out for in the Auriverde ranks are teen forward sensation Alexandre Pato, a FIFA Club World Cup winner in 2006 with Internacional, and Real Madrid's flying left-back Marcelo. Mexico meanwhile also expect to stay the course, as Jesus Ramirez's Tricolor squad is packed with players from the triumphant FIFA Under-17 World Championship Peru 2005 campaign. Certain to give defenders sleepless nights are the electric attacking duo of Carlos Vela and Giovani Dos Santos, of Arsenal and Barcelona respectively.

Throw in a heady mix of up-and-coming European, African and Asian talent, and the fans flocking to stadiums across the vast North American nation are in for a veritable treat.

Share and share alike
This year's edition of the elite competition is set to be played in a total of six cities. Over in the west of the country, matches in Victoria (on Vancouver Island), Burnaby and Edmonton will be played on natural grass pitches in contrast to the artificial surfaces in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, the latter cities following a trend set by the FIFA U-17 World Championship Finland 2003.

First to get the ball rolling will be Montreal, with Brazil taking on Poland there in the opening game of Group D. That said, the opening ceremony itself will not take place until the following day in Toronto, where host nation Canada kick off against Chile. The final and play-off for third place are also scheduled to take place in what is the fifth-largest city in North America.

Last but by no means least, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Edmonton are set to take leading roles in celebrating FIFA Anti-racism Day, which falls at the quarter-final stage of the competition, scheduled for 14 and 15 July.

Household names
Besides the likes of Aguero, Pato and Dos Santos, whose early movements up the footballing ladder have already generated immense publicity, Canada 2007 is the perfect stage for more of the world's finest youngsters to prove their worth. For neighbouring USA, Freddy Adu makes his third appearance at the elite competition while a wealth of expectation surrounds Michael Bradley, son of senior national team coach Bob, who showed at the CONCACAF Gold Cup that he has earned his place in the squad on talent alone. Great things are also expected of Spanish duo of Juan Manuel Mata and Alberto Bueno, La Seleccion hoping to go one better than their second-place finish at United Arab Emirates 2003.

Following the likes of Iker Casillas, Diego Maradona, Bebeto, Luis Figo, Ronaldinho and Marco van Basten from the FIFA U-20 World Cup to genuine greatness is the weighty challenge ahead of the class of Canada 2007. For the fans however, it is time to sit back and enjoy the show...