The press conferences are over, the venues are ready, the players are all here, and it is time for the Under-20 Women's World Cup to kick off. The event, the first international tournament hosted by Canada since they hosted the equivalent men's event in 2007, kicks off with games on Tuesday in Edmonton and Toronto.
The highlight of the first match day is certainly Canada opening their tournament against Ghana at 8:00 at the National Soccer Stadium (BMO Field) in Toronto. The other Group A match, Finland against Korea DPR, will take place prior to that at 5:00. The other games on opening day will take place in Edmonton as Group B hits the field with the United States taking on Germany at 5:00 (local time) followed by China and Brazil at 8:00.
For Canada the opening day will be a stiff test and give fans a good indication of just how they will fare in Group A. Ghana come in to the game as a bit of an unknown commodity as they qualified for the event almost by default. Their wins in the first two rounds of qualification came as a result of walkovers as both Guinea-Bissau and Uganda withdrew prior to the match. That left the Black Princesses having to play two matches against Equatorial Guinea with the winner of that game claiming one of two places in the World Cup from Africa. The home-and-home series finished 1-1 before heading to penalties which Ghana won 4-3.
This is not Ghana's first appearance in this event though as they were also a part of the field for the 2012 World Cup where they lost to Germany, the USA, and China to go home without collecting a single point. They did fare better in 2010 when they managed to pick up a draw with the United States and a win over Switzerland but their four points were not enough to see them beyond the group stage.
Ghana have been a regular in this event recently but are looking to get past the group stage for the first time while Canada will be looking to reach the knockout stages for the first time since 2004 when Brittany Timko led them to the quarterfinals in Thailand. Canada's best performance in the event came back in 2002 when they made it all the way to the final on home soil thanks to the emergence of Christine Sinclair and massive home support.
While we may not see a perfect storm of result and support like we did back in 2002 this team has every chance of making a run to the quarterfinals and possibly beyond. With Germany or the United States potentially waiting in the quarters a return to the final may be a tough ask but getting out of this group is very much a possiblity.
Along with Ghana, Canada will come up against Korea DPR and Finland who they have a recent history with at this event. Back in 2006, Finland's last appearance, Canada was drawn with them along with China and NIgeria. The Finnish squad took a bit of a beating in that group finishing with just 1 point and a -11 goal difference including a 2-0 loss against Canada. In the end, both Canada and Finland went home at the end of the group stage though.
Canada was drawn with North Korea just two years ago at the event in Japan and it was a draw that did not work out favourably for the Canadian team. Canada opened the event with a 6-0 domination of Argentina but after a 2-1 defeat against Norway they needed to beat North Korea to make it out of the group and wound up losing 2-1 despite taking the early lead.
This is a completely different Canadian team though and it is one that has a lot of experience despite their young ages. Several players on the team for this event are already making names for themselves with the senior team including Surra Yekka, Kadeisha Buchanan, Ashley Lawrence, Jessie Fleming, and Rebecca Quinn.
Yekka, Buchanan, and Quinn should give Canada a very solid back-line while Lawrence and Fleming will be looked to provide the creative spark in the midfield. The question mark on the team may be where the scoring will come from outside of Fleming but they do have some options like Nichelle Prince who scored 12 goals in her freshman season at Ohio State, Janine Beckie who has 26 goals in two seasons at Texas Tech, or Valerie Sanderson who scored 17 goals as a freshman at Memphis. If any one of that trio can get rolling it might just be enough to see Canada advance from the group.
With Canada opening the event with games against Ghana and then Finland they will certainly be hoping to have booked their place in the final 8 before they meet up with North Korea in their final group match. That should be the toughest match of the group so getting off to a strong start is a must for this Canadian team if they don't want to make things very hard on themselves.
Canada-Ghana will be on CBC tonight at 8:00 Eastern for those who cannot make it down to the stadium. There will also be streams of that game along with Germany-USA and Finland-North Korea available on cbcsports.ca.
If you do make it down to one of the stadiums for a today's games or any other game during the event be sure to follow us and tweet us a photo (@wakingthered) or like us on facebook (WTR fan page) and share your photo there for a chance to win the latest Umbro Canada jersey which was unveiled last month just in time for this event.