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2015 Women's World Cup

Herdman relishing game vs. old team, New Zealand

Canada coach John Herdman will face his old team, New Zealand, in the group stage. (Photo: Canada Soccer)

Canada coach John Herdman will face his old team, New Zealand, in Group A. (Photo: Canada Soccer)

VANCOUVER, Canada — The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Draw handed host Canada has a fairly comfortable group as they will play China, New Zealand and the Netherlands in the opening round of the tournament.

Team Canada players, friends, and coaching staff all joined the official draw party in Vancouver to learn their team’s fate.

Christine Sinclair drew a loud cheer when first shown on the broadcast and players settled in as the draw was about to begin. Midfielder Kaylyn Kyle was overjoyed and compared the feeling of watching the World Cup Draw to a special December holiday.

“It was like Christmas sitting in that room and (watching) them pulling the teams names out,” Kyle said. “I don’t think it really felt real until today for me, obviously knowing your teams makes it that much more real.”

[MORE: Groups and schedule  |  Five must-see games of group stage]

Along with his players, Canada coach John Herdman was hoping to draw New Zealand in Group A. As the former coach of New Zealand he knows the Kiwis quite well and would relish a victory at the highest stage against his former side. Canada goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc could not hide her excitement when she talked to the media about playing New Zealand in Edmonton, Alberta, on June 11.

“That’s John’s old team and we’ve played them, we know their style,” LeBlanc said. “It’s three different teams, it’s going to be great competition which is great for the game in Canada. It’s just going to be a great display of soccer.”

Kyle is also excited about the matchup.

“It’s so exciting, and I think it’s exciting for everyone, not only John,” Kyle said. “We’ve played them a lot and we know he was the coach there before and now coaching us. We’re really looking forward to it and the other teams, you can’t forget about.”

While New Zealand will most certainly garner the most attention of Canada’s Group A opponents, China and the red-hot Netherlands cannot be forgotten.

Canada won’t have to wait to play China on June 6 because it is expected to be confirmed that Canada will play China at the Four Nations Cup in China next month. Match fixture dates are expected to be Jan. 11, 13 and 15. This opportunity to play China in a tournament setting before the World Cup presents an interesting bundle of tactics, and game planning for both matches.

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Herdman does not expect to expose his entire collection of cards, tactics and formations next month in China. He may decide to play a squad and formation that will be nowhere near what Canada will show on June 6 in Edmonton. LeBlanc knows that her manager’s got a few tricks up his sleeve as he brainstorms for China.

“I don’t think John will go in with our full game plan at that point,” she said. “We’ll learn a lot and that’s the whole point for this next seven months leading in. John’s such a tactical genius that I think we’ll have new things to learn. I’m sure right now his heads just going all over because he’s probably excited, but he’s also preparing. I think in China you’ll see new things, but you won’t see the same thing you’ll see in Edmonton.”

Kyle is looking forward to playing China and she is going to focus on using next month’s match as a lead-up to what Canada could expect to face in the World Cup opening match.

“That will be a great lead up to the World Cup, we’ll obviously play against them and scout against them. We’ve played them before in the China Cup. I think for us it’s just another learning game to be able to perfect it before 2015 and the World Cup.”

The team in Group A that is currently on the biggest hot streak is the Netherlands. Having knocked out Italy in the UEFA playoff final, the Dutch are a team that will draw a lot of attention as a dark horse in Group A. John Herdman didn’t waste long in offering up admiration for the Netherlands as he described the final Group A opponent Canada will play next spring.

“I really like the Dutch, they play like the Dutch men’s team,” Herdman said. “I think the Dutch are the dark horses of the tournament.”

Herdman spoke to the media from Ottawa and talked about how in previous years, if you stopped Manon Melis you could stop the Netherlands. He can’t pronounce her name, but Herdman knows Canada has to stop 18-year-old Vivianne Miedema when they play the Netherlands in Montreal at Olympic Stadium on June 15.

“She’s scoring goals for fun,” Herdman said jokingly.

Sophie Schmidt, Canada’s leading goalscoring in 2014, remembers playing the Netherlands at previous Cyprus Cup competitions. Canada could very well meet the Netherlands at the 2015 edition of the Cyprus Cup in March.

“We usually play them in Cyprus (Cup), and they’re very physical team, very powerful, very technical,” she said. “They are a team to be reckoned with and when they are on they’re tough to beat.”

Not only were the Canadian players closely watching Group A, but they also watching with intrigue the outcome of Group D.

Many players let out huge cheers when Sweden was drawn into a competitive Group D with the United States, Australia, and Nigeria. Schmidt shared her views on the other groups and is glad Canada is not part of the Group of Death.

“They have got a tough group. Both the U.S. and France, I think their groups are very strong,” Schmidt said. “I’m not jealous of their groups by any means, but I think it will make for some great matches.”

The general sentiment here in Vancouver is that Canada got a Group that they’re very happy and comfortable with. Time will tell if Canada can go out and earn victories against China, New Zealand and the Netherlands, but for now, on paper Saturday was a very good day for the host country.

Notes: Canada’s Diana Matheson had ACL surgery 4 weeks ago and is optimistic and hopeful she will be able to return for the World Cup.

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