Within minutes of learning her side’s path at the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023, Canada coach Bev Priestman was deep into the draw.
The seventh-placed Canadians dodged some of the tournament’s heavyweights as they were drawn in Group B against co-hosts Australia, Ireland and Nigeria.
Australia, in 13th place, was the second lowest-ranked team that Canada’s Pot 1 Olympic champions could face. Only co-hosts New Zealand at number 22 had a lower place in the pot of hosts and top seeds.
And Priestman’s team is familiar with Australia and No. 45 Nigeria, having played both twice this year. Ireland, in 24th place, will make their World Cup debut.
“I’m excited,” said Auckland native Priestman of Saturday’s draw. “It could be worse, it could be better.
The top two finishers in each pool advance to the round of 16, with the Group B winner meeting the Group D runner-up and the Group B runner-up meeting the Group D winner.
That means a possible challenging date with No.4 England, No.15 China or No.18 Denmark.
The expanded field of 32 countries made for a friendlier landing zone for most of the top teams. But Group D is one of the tougher neighborhoods and Olympic champions Canada must prevail to reach the quarters.
Priestman said the aim is to win the group to avoid a likely clash with in-form England, who beat top-placed Americans last month.
Canada beat Australia twice in September, 1-0 and 2-1 in Brisbane and Sydney respectively, and are 6-2-2 against the Matildas this century. Having just played Down Under, he also knows what to expect.
The Canadians won their only meeting against Ireland in 2014, 2-1.
But the draw didn’t do Canada any favors in 45th Nigeria, the top-ranked team in Pot 4. The Super Falcons have never missed a World Championship and reached the quarterfinals in 1999.
Canada is 2-1-2 all-time against Nigeria and recorded a 2-0 win and a 2-2 draw when they met in two games in BC in April
“Nigeria are a very difficult team to play,” said Priestman.
Two of their previous matchups took place in past world championships. The two teams drew 3-3 at the 1995 tournament and Canada lost 1-0 to Nigeria in a disastrous performance at the 2011 competition, where they finished bottom.
The tournament starts on July 20th
In next year’s opening games, New Zealand will play Norway in Auckland and Australia will meet Ireland in Sydney, both on July 20 (local time).
The Canadians will play their opening round matches in Australia, starting with Nigeria on July 21 in Melbourne. Canada then meets Ireland in Perth on July 26 before meeting Australia in Melbourne on July 31.
The draw means Canada will play all of their matches in Australia, including the knockout stages.
In the quarterfinals, number 3 Germany or number 5 France could be waiting for Canada
It is the first Women’s World Cup to be held in two countries, the first with a field expanded from 24 to 32 countries and the first in the southern hemisphere.
“It’s coming true!!!” tweeted Canadian defender Vanessa Gilles.
The 64-match tournament is set to take place at 10 different venues in nine different cities through August 20 – five cities in Australia and four in New Zealand.
Priestman and Canada Soccer General Secretary Earl Cochrane were in the audience for the draw, along with FIFA President Gianni Infantino, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Australia’s Minister for Sport Anika Wells. Also present was Canadian Victor Montagliani, President of CONCACAF and Vice-President of FIFA.
Three teams still TBD
The trophy was also there, brought by former US coach Jill Ellis, who won it in 2015 and 2019.
Former players Carli Lloyd, Alexi Lalas, Gilberto Silva and Ian Wright were among those in attendance at Saturday’s ceremony at the Aotea Center in Auckland.
The 29 qualified teams and three places that still had to be filled were divided into four pots by seeding list for the draw.
Canada was placed in Pot 2, which also included 8th-placed Netherlands, No.9 Brazil, No.11 Japan, No.12 Norway, No.14 Italy, No.15 China and No.17 South Korea.
In addition to the tournament’s co-hosts, Pot 1 included USA, No. 2 Sweden, No. 3 Germany, No. 4 England, No. 5 France and No. 6 Spain.
Canada have been kept away from the United States and fellow CONCACAF teams Costa Rica and Jamaica under FIFA’s “general policy” that no group has more than one team from the same confederation.
That doesn’t apply to Europe because of the number of possible participants – 11 or possibly 12 depending on the playoff tournament.
The Philippines, Morocco, Vietnam and Zambia will also make their debuts at a Women’s World Cup.
Vietnam, in 34th place, ends up in the deep final with an opening game against four-time world champions USA
At the 2019 World Cup in France, Canada was drawn into a pool with the Netherlands, Cameroon and New Zealand. The Canadians finished second in the group behind the Netherlands and lost 1-0 to Sweden in the round of 16.
The Canada women are 10-2-3 this year and have won four in a row since losing 1-0 to the USA in the final of the CONCACAF W Championship in Mexico in July.
Canada’s best finish at the World Cup was fourth place in 2003.
The three remaining teams for the 2023 competition are drawn from the 10-team Inter-Confederation Playoff tournament scheduled for February 17-23 in Auckland.
The field includes two teams from Asia (Chinese Taipei and Thailand), two from Africa (Cameroon and Senegal), two from CONCACAF (Haiti and Panama), two from South America (Chile and Paraguay), one from Oceania (Papua New Guinea). and one from Europe (Portugal).
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