Canada to play in Group A for women's Olympic qualifier
A favourable draw has improved the chances of the Canadian national women's soccer team playing at next summer's Olympics, but no one is taking a trip to London for granted.
Canada has been placed in Group A, along with Costa Rica, Cuba and Haiti for the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament, which will be held in January at BC Place Stadium.
"We do like what happened today as far as our draw," Canadian Soccer Association general secretary Peter Montopoli said after Monday's draw.
"I think our team will be pleased with it. It is CONCACAF and CONCACAF is a difficult confederation. You have to be on your game and ready for each and every match day."
Coach John Herdman says Canada will need to combine patience and perseverance to be one of the two teams to move on to the Olympics.
"It's not going to be easy," Herdman said in a telephone interview from Guadalajara, Mexico, where the women are competing at the Pan American Games.
"I don't think any game in the qualifying tournament is easy. The challenge is you have to be smart. You can't put your best team out every single game. You have to use the whole squad and be clever with which games you peak for."
Canada is the top-seeded team in Group A. The powerful U.S. team, which lost to Japan in the final of this summer's Women's World Cup, is the top seed in Group B.
Joining the Americans in Group B are Mexico, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic. CONCACAF is the region that covers North American, Central America and the Caribbean.
The eight-team tournament will be held Jan. 19-29 at the newly refurbished BC Place Stadium. The group winners will play the second-place team from the other group in the semifinals.
The two teams that reach the final qualify for the London Games.
Heading to the Olympics would help ease some of the frustration the Canadian women felt after a disappointing performance at the World Cup.
Canada went into that tournament ranked sixth in the world but suffered three defeats and exited in the first round. That led to former coach Carolina Morace's sudden resignation.
"I think for the CSA, for the women's team, it's a sense of redemption for our team, our players," said Montopoli.
"Everybody really needs to know how hard they worked leading up to the Women's World Cup. For whatever reason the results weren't there. We are doing everything we can to have that team ready to qualify for the Olympics."
Herdman said his team can't rewrite history.
"Mentally it was about them getting back on their bike," he said.
"They don't need to be thinking about that. They just need to focus on the job at hand, which is to qualify for the Olympic Games. I'm sure this team is more than capable of doing that."
Canada is currently ranked ninth in the FIFA world rankings, while Costa Rica is 44th, Haiti is 61st and Cuba is 94th.
Herdman said those ranking go out the window once a team steps on the pitch.
"If you look at world rankings they often don't tell the full story," said Herdman, the former head coach of New Zealand's women's team who was hired in September.
"Some of the teams you come up against are looking to take a scalp. They will put their best teams out for every single game. There is a big challenge ahead but it's an exciting one."
The tournament schedule won't be available until Tuesday, but Herdman expects Costa Rica to be one of Canada's toughest games during the group stage.
Canada beat Costa Rica 3-1 during a tournament match at the Pan Am Games
"They were a tough team," said Herdman. "They have some good individual players. It's not going to be easy."
Canada qualified for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, losing a heart-breaking match to the U.S. in the quarter-finals.
An upset loss to Mexico prevented Canada from competing at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
The tournament will be the first international competition since BC Place underwent $563 million in renovations, including a retractable roof.
Ted Howard, CONCACAF's deputy general secretary, said he's pleased the event can be held in the new facility.
"We love having the tournament anywhere where there is one of the top countries hosting it," said Howard. "We know it will draw well, we know it will be very well organized.
"We are thrilled."
Vancouver is also interested in hosting matches when the 2015 Women's World Cup is held in Canada.