THE DAY REPLAYED - The first round of group games at the FIFA U-20 World Championship Canada 2007 came to a close on Monday with three matches in all. After Portugal and Mexico had starred in a double bill in Toronto with comfortable wins over New Zealand and Gambia, Austria and Congo played out a 1-1 draw as Edmonton opened for business, with every side having now enjoyed a piece of the action. On the day that the tournament organisers sold their one millionth ticket, a little piece of goal scoring history was also made.
The 12 games staged to date have shown the extent to which the Canadian public has taken the tournament to their hearts. Packed houses and a party atmosphere have been the order of the day so far at Canada 2007, and with tickets still selling like hot cakes, there is every indication that the spirit of fun and fair play will continue right through to the final.
Gama's goal for the record books
Portugal's Bruno Gama was the first player to make his mark on Monday when he scored the two goals that ensured first-time finalists New Zealand got off to a losing start. Toronto's sizeable Portuguese community was out in force at the National Soccer Stadium, helping Jose Couceiro's side feel right at home, and the young Portuguese repaid their compatriots' faith in full, strolling to a routine victory over the Kiwis despite missing several chances.
The Braga striker opened the scoring with a majestic free-kick on the stroke of half-time before making the points safe with a second-half penalty. This was no ordinary spot-kick, however, as Gama side-footed his way into the competition record books by scoring the 1,600th goal in the tournament's history. He joins two other Portuguese names on the list of goalscoring landmarks, Rui Ferreira having scored the 100th goal at Japan 1979 and Paulo Torres the 600th at Portugal 1991.
Act two in Toronto saw Mexico and Gambia take to the stage. And both sides showed plenty of first-night nerves in a frenetic opening 45 minutes that saw both midfields reduced to supporting roles. Much to the delight of a noisy crowd, though, the chances came thick and fast with Tricolor keeper Alfonso Blanco pulling off a string of spectacular saves to keep the Africans at bay. The Baby Scorpions lost their sting after the restart, however, as goals from Giovanni dos Santos, Hector Moreno and Javier Hernandez ensured a happy ending for the boys in green.
Edmonton joins the party
Austria and Congo rounded off the day's events with a 1-1 draw in Edmonton. Normally the home patch of Canadian Football League franchise the Edmonton Eskimos, the Commonwealth Stadium has been given a full soccer makeover and provided a superb setting as the final two sides to take their tournament bows went head to head.
Edwin Hoffer got the Austrians off to the best of starts after seven minutes, firing home a loose ball after Congo keeper Destin Onka had failed to hold onto Peter Hackmair's header. Franchel Ibara pulled the Africans level from the spot on the hour mark and the Congolese went mightily close to recording a famous win, Michael Zaglmair's goal-line heroics denying them five minutes from time.
All eyes will be on Edmonton in the next few days as it prepares to host Canada's final two group games.