Saturday’s 2023 Women’s World Cup Draw sparked another interesting debate for Canada: Are they favorites in their group?
It’s a loaded question for a team long used to being an underdog, and particularly because their place in Group B sticks them with the unforgiving task of playing hosts Australia. Nigeria and Ireland round out a tough group.
Canada, however, is the seventh-ranked team in the world and won the Olympic gold medal last year. The Olympic champions have a strong goalkeeper, even stingier defense, and more depth than ever in the attack.
Australia has superlative talent like forward Sam Kerr, but the Matildas are yet to put together a complete package that suggests they can contend for a world title. They will have 30,000 fans cheering them on in Melbourne when the two teams meet on July 31, and Canada – having hosted the 2015 World Cup – understands that weight of expectation well.
As Bev Priestman prepares for her first World Cup as Canada head coach, she is ready for her team to take on the label of being the favorite to win Group B.
“I think people from outside will look at that,” Priestman said following the draw in New Zealand. “People will also view Australia as a very good team, albeit they haven’t had that consistency of late, but yeah, absolutely. I think we have to go into that aiming to top that group because you look at that crossovers, and I’m not saying it’s a given that England win their group, but you want to avoid them in the round of 16. I think any team would say that based on their recent success. Yeah, we’ve got to go in with the mindset that we can and will top that group. As you know, it never is an easy task in a tournament setting, anything can happen, but absolutely.”
There will be plenty of familiarity in Group B. The Canadians have already played both Australia and Nigeria twice this year. Canada defeated The Matildas twice last month by scores of 2-1 and 1-0 during friendlies in Sydney and Brisbane, respectively.
Canada’s last win on home soil was in April against Nigeria during the delayed Olympic celebration tour. The red-and-white beat the Super Falcons, 2-0 in Vancouver and played them to a 2-2 draw in Victoria three days later.
Canada’s lone match against the Republic of Ireland came in 2014 during the Cyprus Cup, where Canada earned a 2-1 victory thanks to goals from Sophie Schmidt and Diana Matheson.
Canada is 10-2-3 this year with wins over Germany, Nigeria, and twice over Australia. Canada’s losses have come against Spain and the U.S.
“I think I’m excited,” Priestman said of the draw. “Firstly, to get a home nation and the recent experiences against both those teams, it’s a positive. Yeah, I’m excited, it could be worse, it could be better I think. Overall, not really any easy games. Even the likes of Ireland. Vera Pauw is a very experienced coach. They’ll be out to prove in their opening game that they should be at this World Cup. I’m excited more than anything, especially to get a home nation. I think that’s going to bring an incredible atmosphere.”
If Canada can continue to play the lock-down defense that helped them win the gold medal in Tokyo last year, they will be a tough opponent to tackle. Ashley Lawrence, Vanessa Gilles, and Kadesha Buchanan are the heart of Canada’s brick wall defense in front of goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan.
As is often the case with Canada, goal-scoring is the biggest hurdle Canada will have to overcome. Christine Sinclair isn’t logging the minutes she once did for Canada and that has allowed more players to get opportunities to step up and show that they can deliver.
Adriana Leon scored all three goals for Canada when they played Australia.
Earlier this month, Canada defeated World Cup-bound Argentina and Morocco with five different goal-scorers filling the net. The Canadians are no longer a team that has to count on goals from Sinclair in order to find success during major tournaments.
Whether it’s Leon, Janine Beckie, Nichelle Prince, Jordyn Huitema, Evelyne Viens, or Deanne Rose – when she is fully healthy – Canada can score.
Canada’s entire tournament will be played in Australia and that means that the Canadians will have to adjust to a significant journey to the west coast of Australia and back.
Traveling far and wide isn’t a new thing for Canada; 12 of the 15 games Canada have played this year have been played outside of Canada.
In true Canadian fashion, Priestman and her squad will have a plan set for the journey.
“I think the group stage travel is probably the one you didn’t want,” Priestman said. “Which is to go to the other side of Australia and into Perth, which will bring us challenges both in climate and time change. At the end of the day, Australia is like Canada, it’s a big country and we often have to travel. It’s not something we haven’t come up against. In terms of preparation, now we know our fate. Myself and the staff will be getting together and really mapping it out.”
The path has been laid out for Canada and it’s certainly one they should be able to topple and move on to the round of 16. The winner of Group B will face the runner-up in a Group D that features England, Denmark, China and a yet to be named country from the global playoff.
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