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Dreaming of 2026: FIFA president says Canada on its way to World Cup bid

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TORONTO - Sepp Blatter appeared at peace.

Perhaps it was lingering memories of a chaotic Brazilian World Cup that have FIFA's president so happy to be in Canada. Maybe it was a modestly attended press conference where he faced no questions about bidding corruption, 2018 World Cup host Russia's alleged military involvement in Ukraine or labour rights in 2022 host Qatar.

Whatever the reason, Canada suits Blatter just fine. So fine in fact that Blatter didn't have to be asked about a possible World Cup in Canada — he brought it up on his own.

"Let's go to see if you can bring the famous FIFA's World Cup we just played in Brazil to your country," he said Monday. "I'm sure that this country will be as calm as it is now, and tell me one country in the world actually that is very calm. And here, I feel home."

That's good news for Canadian soccer ahead of the Under-20 Women's World Cup, which begins Tuesday and runs through Aug. 24 in Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton and Moncton, N.B.

Canada opens play Tuesday against Ghana in Toronto. The 16-team event is a precursor to next year's Women's World Cup, which will move from 16 teams to 24.

Blatter called the tournaments a necessary step to a successful bid by the Canadian Soccer Association for the men's tournament.

"It's time. It's a project and if you're going to have a project like the FIFA World Cup, it takes some time," he said. "You have had the courage and it was necessary to (CSA president Victor Montagliani) to have the courage to ask, to organize FIFA's Women's World Cup with 24 teams. It will be the first time."

The CSA has said it plans to enter a formal bid for the 2026 World Cup.

"We're the only G8 country that hasn't hosted a World Cup ...," said Montagliani. "I think we've sort of started to shed our humbleness a little bit ... I think that's our next step of evolution in terms of the growth of the game, and I think something that not only bodes well for our country but also the continent and will help our neighbours as well."

None of which actually guarantees Canada will host a World Cup.

Canada won the bidding to both women's tournaments in 2011 after its lone opposition, Zimbabwe, pulled out of consideration. Canada previously hosted the men's Under-17 World Cup in 1987 and the men's Under-20 World Cup in 2007, as well as the first women's under-20 tournament in 2002.

There's also the matter of a significant disparity between the women's and men's teams.

The women's side, led by star Christine Sinclair of Burnaby, B.C. is ranked seventh in the world and recently won bronze at the 2012 London Games. The men are 118th in the world, have only a 1986 World Cup appearance to their credit and are early in a rebuilding process.

But Blatter was quick to reminisce about Canada's soccer history. He recalled the decision made in Montreal by the FIFA Congress in 1976 to expel South Africa for its then pro-apartheid stance. He also downplayed Canada's geographic disadvantage as a possible World Cup host.

"The distances? What are distances?" he said. "We have just been in Brazil. And you know Brazil is a country with 200 million people, and we have been in three difference zones of climate. If you play in Canada, we will be in the same zone of climate. ... In Brazil we were at the equator. It was hot, humid, sometimes raining."

Brazil is already in the past for FIFA. Canada, if Blatter is to be believed, could be in its future if the women's tournaments are a success.

"Next year there is no Brazil. Because Brazil is still in the air somewhere," he said. "But next year it's not Brazil. It's the under-20 and then (the Women's World Cup). There's no (other) big competition next year. So let's go."

Follow @tyler_harper on Twitter

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version had an incorrect hometown for Christine Sinclair.

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