Inspired by the success of the Canadian women's team at the Summer Olympics, a younger Canada side opens against Nigeria on Saturday at the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup in Azerbaijan.
The Canadian teenagers heard from the likes of Olympic bronze medallists Diana Matheson, Carmelina Moscato and Robyn Gale in the buildup to the 16-country tournament that runs through Oct. 13.
"First and foremost, to have senior national team players give up their time to come speak to under-17 players about their experience and knowledge — and what it was for them to be on the podium at the Olympics — that process goes a long way," Canadian under-17 coach Bryan Rosenfeld said Friday from Baku.
"These are the idols of these players here."
Veteran senior goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc is rooting for the younger generation of Canadian women.
"We're hoping that what we did inspired them also because Canada should be on the map at all levels for this game, especially in the women's program," she said Friday at the Toronto celebration for Olympians.
"I wish them all the luck. We're raising the bar here. Expectations are no longer let's just participate," she added. "Expectations are 'Let's win these things, let's get in the top three consistently."'
Canada has participated in the two previous world under-17 championships, reaching the quarter-finals in 2008 in New Zealand and exiting after the group stage two years ago in Trinidad and Tobago.
Rosenfeld was at the helm both times.
This Canadian side finished runner-up in CONCACAF qualification, losing 1-0 to the U.S. in the final after outscoring its previous tournament competition by a 17-1 margin.
Summer Clarke of Richmond,. B.C., and Valerie Sanderson of Boisbriand, Que., combined for 11 of those goals.
Canada is captained by midfielder Ashley Lawrence of Caledon East, Ont., the lone returning Canadian from the 2010 tournament.
Canada's goal this time is to reach the knockout rounds.
The Nigerians are probably Canada's stiffest first-round opposition. Two years ago, the Flamingoes became the first African country to survive the group round before losing 6-5 in extra time to eventual champion South Korea in the quarter-finals.
Nigeria went 10-1-1 in qualifying this time round.
"They really are a force to be reckoned with in the future," said Rosenfeld. "They're a tough squad."
Nigeria showed its potential at the recent U-20 World Cup in Japan where it finished fourth.
Canada's other first-round opponents, Colombia and Azerbaijan, are lesser-known foes but Rosenfeld noted the pride in putting on a Columbian soccer jersey and the buzz around the home side.
"They've been well-prepared. They're put a lot of resources into the team," he said of Azerbaijan.
The road doesn't get any easier if Canada emerges from Group A. Depending if it finishes first or second in the group, it would then play either the runner-up or winner in Group B, which features France, Gambia, the U.S. and 2008 champion North Korea.
Top talent from this Canadian team will probably figure in the under-20 squad when Canada hosts the U-20 World Cup in 2014.