We know who the Canadian women are going to be playing -- so now all we need is for the first ball to be kicked in anger. But most of us are probably wondering what is Canada's chances of winning a medal, and looking at the 12-team field (with 8 of the top 10 in the FIFA Women's World Rankings represented -- 7 if you don't roll the UK team with the 9th-ranked English), it may not be an easy task -- but like the old saying goes: nothing is impossible.
Waking The Red's Scenario Generator and Chip Butty Maker 7000™ (patent pending) has been burning the midnight oil, trying to find some possible paths to glory or empty-handedness for the Canadian women's team. Here's some of the results. Most of the results are based on the following assumptions:
- Group E will be won by the Brazilians;
- Group F will be won by the (who are, as we know, defending World Cup champions) ese
- Group G will be won by the United States.
All of these are applied, unless noted. Now, let's take a look at what the Scenario Generator has cooked up...
Finish second in Group F; which is perhaps the likeliest scenario -- lose to Japan in the opening game, but finishing as runners-up by beating the Swedes and the Banyana Banyana (South Africa).
Why second place? Because the runners up of Group F are paired with the runners up in Group E, which will likely be a toss-up between hosts Britain, and New Zealand; which compared to likely Group G runners up France, is probably a better choice for an opening knockout game.
The next part is a bit trickier; as the semi-final will involve the winners of Group F (Japan, as per our assumptions) and the runners of up Group G (which should be France). It's not an impossible hump to get over, but at least the chances of facing the US here is slim.
Winning the match would mean a guaranteed medal (either gold or silver) against whomever comes out of the other half of the bracket -- the benefit to all of this is that this scenario will likely keep the Americans at bay at least until the medal matches, and given our history with the Americans, that might not be a bad idea.
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Winning Group F. That will require sweeping all three games (or at least winning two and drawing one); The path is almost identical to the one above, except instead of facing either Britain or New Zealand, France will be the likely quarterfinal opponent.
However, in the case of a freak result that would relegate the US to second place in Group G, the likelihood of a medal would drop faster than Fredy Montero to the turf to win a penalty. So while winning the group may be a nice feather in the cap, the path has more hidden hazards.
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Finishing third in Group F. This would likely mean winning just one game, and hoping that at least one of the third place finishers performed even more poorly than they did -- not exactly the most healthy mentality to have, but it's a place that the Canadians have been before, having qualified for the knockout rounds four years ago in the same fashion.
However, who they will face in this case depends on who qualifies in the other third-place slot: if it is Group E's third-place finisher (which is likely to be New Zealand), then it will be they who will face the USA in the first round. If it is Group G's third-place finisher (likely the North Koreans, or the French in the case of a freak result), then it would mean a 49th parallel battle in Newcastle, a result that given recent form, likely won't end on the podium.
If the Canadians do avoid the Americans in the first round, then it will likely happen in the semifinal; but losing there at least guarantees a chance at bronze -- which is a 50-50 tossup, but hey, better than getting no chance to play for anything, right?
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Finishing last in Group F. No knockout rounds for Canada, and cue disaster at the Women's Canadian Soccer Association. Christine Sinclair will probably hang up her cleats in shame, John Herdman is fired, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is asked to explain something he has no clue how to answer, Canada misses another chance to build, CSA supporters blame hockey for taking up the glut of funding, and the end of Canadian women's footy in the top 10 of FIFA's World Ranking -- in other words, finger pointing all 'round. It's the bad old days all over again. In short, it needs a disaster to create a disaster -- and since we're due to host the 2015 World Cup, let's not have this happen, shall we? Please?
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Again, most (except #4, which is pretty obvious) of these scenarios are based on the three assumptions listed above -- and are subject to freak results.
So what are the keys to a medal for Canada at the London 2012 Olympic footy tournament? To avoid the United States in the quarter finals at all costs, which they can do by finishing either first or second in the group, to eliminate or minimize that threat. It's not rocket science, but we can only hope that either one of the first three scenarios will lead the Canadian ladies to some long-overdue Olympic bling, and not to more heartbreak for fans and players alike.