Supersize retail therapy for Austria

The tension is palpable at the combined hotel headquarters of Congo and Austria in Edmonton, where both teams are kicking their heels waiting to play their opening Group A match on Monday, and to relieve the pressure, the Austrians have taken time out to do a little shopping.

Well, not quite "a little shopping" as such. One of the primary tourism attractions in the city is the gigantic West Edmonton Mall, the largest indoor retail facility in North America and joined the Austrians on the trip out to the suburbs to see the mind-boggling attractions on offer all under one roof 12km from downtown.

Sprawling over 48 blocks and covering the size of 115 football pitches, the West Edmonton Mall is quite something to behold. With more than 800 stores, the world's largest indoor amusement park, an ice rink, a miniature golf course and the biggest enclosed wave pool on the planet being just some of the facilities, it is incredibly difficult to know where to start.

Possibly sticking to what they know best, the Austria squad headed straight for a sporting goods shop upon arrival at the mall, where their collective presence in team tracksuits turned more than a few heads, forcing one distracted onlooker to remark: "Hey look... there goes Australia!" Oh well, the West Edmonton Mall is a pretty confusing place.

It was just as well that their imposing defender Sebastian Proedl did not hear Austria being mistaken for the Aussies, and the gentle giant was simply knocked out by his shopping expedition. "It's an incredible place," he said. "I think it's really cool for all of our team to come here and it's a new experience for us.

Pressure forgotten
"I have visited Toronto before to see my brother when he was at university but this is just amazing," Proedl added. "The U-20 World Cup is a really big event and it's good that we can relax like this before the games start. When I think of the match I can sometimes feel a little pressure but I can forget about all that while I am here."

Standing at 1.92m, Proedl would have had little trouble making the minimum height restriction at the indoor rollercoaster where the squad headed to next but with the ride closed for maintenance, the players had to make do with a test of strength and muscle at the nearby 'King of the Hammer' machine. This is where the testosterone release was almost visible in the air as the fit young athletes took turns to smash the living daylights out of the mallet-driven device, which took a fearful, brutal pounding.

Once they had got that out of their system, team Austria strolled about the mall in search of gifts and midfielder Siegfried Rasswalder was almost rendered speechless by what he had witnessed. "I have never seen such a big place like this," he managed to tell "Edmonton in general is a very beautiful city and I really like the skyscrapers... it's all very different to Austria. I'm a little bit nervous about the opening game but also very excited that it's coming now and also to play in front of so many people at such a big stadium."

Shopping complete, Austria and group rivals Congo have now reverted to prowling about each other around the hotel lobby and everyone is just desperate to get out on the pitch. Austria made quite an impression at the West Edmonton Mall and the same is probably true in reverse. Their next port of call will be the vast Commonwealth Stadium, which appears tantalisingly close in the panoramic views from the upper floors of the hotel. For all concerned, Monday cannot come a moment too soon.