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Olympic Opener Against Australia Will Reveal A Lot About Young Canadian Team

Australia is a tough opponent to start the tournament against, but will get Canada ready for what is a tough draw.

Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

There are going to be a lot of confused Canadians when the women's national soccer team steps onto the pitch for their first game of Rio 2016 today. The team that inspired the nation four years ago has a whole new cast of characters this year, looking completely different from the 2012 bronze medal winning squad.

The mainstays are still on the team, maybe too many of them, but for the most part the roster is a combination of Olympic rookies. There are only six returning players from London, and only four of them are likely to consistently start. Christine Sinclair is once again the face of this team, joined by Dianna Matheson, Rhian Wilkinson, Desiree Scott, Melissa Tancredi and Sophie Schmidt.

Even those who watched last year's World Cup will notice some notable players who are missing: Kaylyn Kyle, Lauren Sesselmann, and Erin McLeod to name a few. Replacing them are six youngsters, the next generation of Canadian talent.

With an average age of 25, the goals of this team will be significantly different from the 2012 tournament. Sure, they will still be chasing gold as hard as ever, but it is the next Olympics when the core of this team will truly have reached its potential.

So the expectations that will likely be placed on this team by those who have checked in infrequently since London will be unfair, just as they were for the 2015 World Cup. This time, however, there has been no hype coming out of the Canadian camp: they know that repeating as medallists is a tall order.

Today's match begins that difficult campaign, as Canada will be forced to play their Olympic opener against the Australians. The Matildas, as they are called, are quickly emerging in the women's soccer scene, and are currently ranked fifth in the World.

At last year's World Cup they stunned the Brazilians before losing a tight game to the Japanese in the quarterfinals. They place a strong technical brand of soccer, and while Germany is the biggest test of the group for Canada, they will be a close second.

Even before the Matildas emerged as a top team in the women's game, Canada struggled to beat them. The national team has an all-time record of 5 wins, three draws and seven losses against Australia.

Beating them would be huge for not only Canada's confidence, but also their placement in the group. A win would likely mean Canada going through as the second-place team in the group, and ideally a more favourable outcome in the quarterfinals. Although looking at the draw, it is unlikely that Canada gets to the medal round without beating one of the world's top teams.

That's unlikely, considering how the team has fared against the world's best in competitions lately, but the Olympics are always full of surprises. Canada almost took down the Gold medallist United States last Olympics, and have the potential for a similar performance this time around.

Like London, however, it is going to take a perfect set of circumstances, and some world-class performances from some lesser known players, to see this team stand on the podium again. The "golden generation" has seen their time pass, and now need the team's young players to carry them forward.