In the small hours of the morning one of those over the top FIFA type events took place. The majority of you were probably sleeping and to be frank you did not miss out on all that much if you did not wake up early to see the Olympic soccer draw.
The event kicked off with the drawing of the Men's tournament which would make up Groups A-D. That part of the draw was of no direct interest to us Canadians though as our men's team tragically failed to qualify. It was groups E-G that we were more interested in since that was the women's side of things. Not quite sure why they continued the lettering from one gender to the other since this way just makes it seem like it is all a single tournament for one gold medal when we all know that it is not.
The Women's draw would see the 12 partaking teams drawn into 3 groups of 4 teams each. The top seeds for the tournament were hosts Great Britain, reigning World Cup champions Japan, and World number United States of America. In the second pot you had world number 4 Brazil, number 5 Sweden, and number 6 France. That left world number 7 Canada in the third pot along with New Zealand, and North Korea, and finally Cameroon, South Africa, and Columbia in pot 4 to round out the bunch.
On paper all of the teams in the lower seeds would have been hoping to be drawn with Great Britain as they are by far the weakest of the top seeds with England being the best of the countries involved at 9th in the world. After that though it looked like every group was going to have three tricky teams included with New Zealand being the lowest ranked in the top 12 seeds at 24th in the world.Canada was not lucky enough to get into Great Britain's group though. Instead they were drawn into Group F which already included Japan and Sweden. The group would be rounded out by world number 65 South Africa. On paper it looks like South Africa will be the whipping girls of the group with the other three sides being very closely matched. With three of the top seven ranked nations in the world involved in one group it is sure to be hotly contested.
Canada's head coach, John Herdman, summed up the group quite well, "I think, out of the groups, we got a tough one, but it's certainly doable". That is a good attitude for Canada to take going in to this one. They know that their opening game against Japan on July 25th is going to be a very tricky one but if they can get through that one then anything really is possible.
For the head coach Japan are actually the class of the field which is saying something considering just how good the Americans have looked in their matches since the last World Cup. "I think they're in a bit of a league of their own at the minute. They're quite the special team. They're playing a style of football that I'm sure has taken women's football to another level." That is high praise from the coach but it is also justified. The Americans are a powerful team but they do not do anything all that impressive tactically. With them it is all about size, strength and pace while the Japanese play a more technical style that will surely cause a very different challenge for Canada.
Sweden is a bit more of a known quantity for Canada as the two nations have played in a number of friendlies in recent years. The most recent was a 3-1 win for Sweden this spring in Malmo. Before that though Canada claimed a 2-1 win down in Phoenix when the teams met for a friendly last November.
The Sweden game is the big make or break matchup for the Canadian team. Herdman remarked, "I think that's the tournament breaker for us. I think the game against Sweden becomes the real do or die game." He is right too as Canada will need to get something against Sweden to ensure they finish top 2 in the group. With all three teams likely to take three points off of South Africa it will come down to what they do against each other. So assuming Canada does not pull of an upset against Japan, which is certainly not impossible, the Sweden game basically just becomes a must win.
For Canada the goal is a medal and nothing less. It is going to be a tough task considering that Canada is coming off of defeats to the United States, Sweden and France who will all be in the medal running as well. Canada will certainly need to find another level if they want to own a piece of the podium. "We're very clear, if we want on the podium, we have to be a lot more decisive with our possession and on certain parts of the pitch we have to be able to break down that zonal block that will be put in front of us."
He makes winning a football game sound so simple. When Canada heads to Coventry though it will be anything but simple. It is going to be a tough task but with a bit less pressure on the side than there was going into the World Cup maybe they finally will prove to be the dark horse we all are hoping for.
Canada's full schedule will be:
Wednesday July 25 - v Japan - Coventry Stadium
Saturday July 28 - v South Africa - Coventry Stadium
Tuesday July 31 - v Sweden - St. James Park, Newcastle (not using the other name!)
If Canada does manage to advance to the quarter-finals as one of the top two teams in the group or one of the two best third place teams (yes, that is 8 of 12 teams advance) they would play on August 3 at either Hampden Park in Glasgow, Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Coventry Stadium in Coventry, or St. James Park in Newcastle. That would be followed by a potential semi-final at either Old Trafford in Manchester or Wembley Stadium in London on August 6. Then things wrap up on the 9th with a bronze medal match being played in Coventry and the gold medal match taking place that same day at Wembley.
It is a long and winding road for Canada. If they finish first in their group they would have themselves a date with the runners up from Group G which includes the United States and France. Second place in the group stage and they would get the runners up of Group E which included Great Britain, Brazil and New Zealand. A third place finish and it all comes down to math and a possible meeting with the winners of either of the other groups which is not an appealing prospect.