Canadian women get tough draw for Olympic soccer tournament

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Image: Canada Soccer

The Canadian Women’s National Soccer Team got some bad news yesterday, as the Olympic soccer tournament draw was held.

Canada was put into Group E, AKA the ‘group of death’. Canada, bronze medallists at London 2012, are currently ranked 10th in the world. With #2 ranked Germany and #5 ranked Australia, Group E is the only group to contain three top-10 teams. Zimbabwe, the 95th ranked team in the world, rounds out the group.

Group E Group F Group G
Brazil (8) Germany (2) USA (1)
Sweden (6) Australia (5) France (3)
China (12) Canada (10) New Zealand (16)
South Africa (54) Zimbabwe (95) Colombia (24)

The top-two teams from each group, along with the next two best teams overall, will advance to the quarterfinals.

“We will have to be at our best in every match to progress,” said head coach John Herdman, speaking at a media conference in downtown Vancouver. “It will be about producing personal bests, with our young and veteran players pushing every day.”

Herdman infused his lineup with a number of young players for the Olympic qualifying tournament this year, and it will be interesting to see how they mix with the veterans.

“I think they’ll be ready” Herdman said. “The beauty they bring is just there’s no fear. As long as we don’t make the games bigger than they need to be, these kids can spread their wings a bit.”

“The realities are not all experience is good experience. And sometimes having no experience is the best place to be.”

Wise words from the Canada’s charismatic leader.

Nerves may have got to 32-year-old defender Lauren Sesselmann – who was not named to the Olympic qualifying team – in last year’s World Cup quarterfinal.

Canada will also be younger in goal, but not by choice. Goalkeeper Erin McLeod will miss the Olympics with an ACL injury. One of Stephanie Labbé (age 29) or Sabrina D’Angelo (23) will take her place.

Young players like Kadeisha Buchanan (20), Ashley Lawrence (20), and Janine Beckie (21) will be important players in this tournament. New to the national program are a number of teenagers, including Deanne Rose (16), Jessie Fleming (17), and Gabrielle Carle (17).

But make no mistake, Canada’s most important player is still Burnaby’s Christine Sinclair.

Herdman believes that Sinclair, who will turn 33 before the tournament begins, can still carry the mail.

“I think the CONCACAF Championship showed that. Christine was injured in that championship, she had a lot going on in her personal life in that championship, but when we asked her to step up, she scores probably the best goal of her career.”

Can’t say I can argue with Herdman on that…

Image: Sportsnet

Image: Sportsnet

Still, as dominant as she can be, it’s not realistic for Canada to rely on magic every single game from Sinclair.

“I think the great news is, with people like Schmidt and Scott hitting the peak of their careers, with Buchanan on the team, people like Ashley Lawrence, Diana Matheson back – we didn’t have Matheson at the World Cup and I think that was a huge loss for Christine – I think Christine is going to have a bit of weight taken off her shoulders” said Herdman.

“You’re starting to see players around her like Janine Beckie, who’s consistently scoring. Deanne Rose, who brings a new added threat that teams have to take care of with real international pace. Nichelle Prince, (Melissa) Tancredi. I think Christine starts to feel a little more ‘hey, I’ve got people around that can carry the weight, and the girls have got my back.’”

That will be the key for Canada to not only get out of their group in Rio, but to get on the podium.

Canada will play two tune-up games against Brazil in advance of the Summer Olympics. The first game will be on June 4th in Toronto, while the second takes place June 7 in Ottawa.

“We’re very excited to come back home,” said Herdman. “They will be incredible matches. Anyone who has watched us play against Brazil knows that they are the most-fiercely competitive matches. The fans are going to love it.”

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Rob Williams Sports Editor at Vancity Buzz covering all sports in Vancouver.
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