Canada lands favourable draw in U-20 Women's World Cup
Hosts set to square-off against Finland, Ghana and North Korea in group stage
Canada is sitting pretty ahead of the 2014 FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup.
Canada was placed in one of the easiest groups during Saturday's live televised draw in Montreal. The eighth-ranked Canadians will face North Korea (ranked No. 4), Ghana (No. 19) and Finland (No. 26) in the group stage.
"We definitely didn't expect an easy group," said Canadian U-20 coach Andrew Olivieri. "We were anxious. It's a great group."
Olivieri, a retired Montreal Impact goalkeeper, doesn't want to get ahead of himself before the first ball is kicked five months from now. A good draw, however, allowed him to raise his expectations.
"We've never been beyond a quarter-final, except for that first tournament (in 2002)," he said. "We're in a good position. We want to reach the quarter-final, and win that quarter-final."
Since the inaugural competition in 2002, also hosted by Canada, the U-20 tournament has been held every two years.
This year, the 20-day tournament begins on Aug. 5 and wraps up Aug. 24. Four Canadian cities — Montreal, Toronto, Edmonton, and Moncton — will welcome some of the best women's under-20-year-olds from 16 different nations. The final will be held at Montreal's Olympic Stadium.
Canada plays Ghana in the tournament's opening match in Toronto. Ghanese coach Bashir Hayford thinks Canadians would be too quick to treat the first game as an easy victory for the home side.
"All eyes will be on us," said Hayford. "It will be a bit intimidating with that crowd. But we'll have supporters in Toronto too. I know they will galvanize and come and support us. If we can win, our confidence will be built for subsequent games. We are going to play very well."
Ghana earned its spot in the U-20 World Cup by defeating Equatorial Guinea 4-3 in penalty shots in January. This is their third successive trip to the U-20 World Cup, but they have yet to make it past the group stage.
"Every country wants to win the cup," said Hayford. "That's why we're competing. If you ask me about my expectations, I'll tell you: we want to win the cup."
After Ghana, the Canadians will face the Finns, also in Toronto.
Finnish coach Marianne Miettinen knows playing in Canada will be a great experience for her young players. She says she will be wary of Canada's good speed up front, but knows her side will come to Toronto with a lot of heart.
"Finland has a good fighting spirit," said Miettinen. "The Northern teams are really well organized. We're going to give everything in every game. We're going to be really tough to beat."
The Canadians close out the group stage against North Korea, in Montreal. And although the fast-paced North Korean team will prove to be a tough test for Canada, the host nation luckily avoided the Group of Death — the soccer group that invariably brings together some of the world's best teams.
For the upcoming U-20 Women's World Cup, that group is composed of the United States (ranked No. 1), Germany (No. 2), Brazil (No. 3), and China (No. 6). Together, the U.S. and Germany have won five of six U-20 competitions. The Americans are the defending champions, having beaten the Germans 1-0 in the final game of the 2012 tournament in Tokyo, Japan.
If Canada does make it past their group stage, they will have to face the Americans, Germans, or Brazilians in the quarter-final.
"It's going to be challenging," admitted Olivieri.
The tournament's third group opposes Nigeria (ranked No. 5), South Korea (No. 10), Mexico (No. 11), and England (No. 13), and the final one includes France (No. 9), New Zealand (No. 15), Costa Rica (No. 25), and tournament newcomers Paraguay (unranked).
The U-20 World Cup will give also give Canadian soccer fans a taste of what's to come. Next summer, Moncton, Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver will host the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup, the first senior FIFA tournament held in Canada.
Olivieri, who's been coaching the under-20s for two years now, said that any player who excels on his squad this summer will have a very good shot at being involved in next summer's World Cup.
In total, Canada will host 84 international soccer matches in seven cities across the country in the next two years, and is expected to draw a combined nearly two million soccer fans.
"The women's game is improving in Canada," said Olivieri. "It will be incredible. There are many young kids already playing the game, and this will only help. The reach of the game will change."
Note: Mayor Denis Coderre and former Montreal Canadiens coach Jacques Demers were in attendance for FIFA's official draw. a Ten of the 16 team coaches were also present in Montreal on Saturday.