Canada avoids Group of Death in draw for FIFA Women`s World Cup 2015
Rosanne Pinchin watches the final schedule draw for the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015 at The Pint Public House & Sports Bar on Saturday. (David Bloom, Edmonton Sun)
It's all real now. That's the thing.
The first major sports event being held from coast to coast in Canadian history, the FIFA 2015 Women's World Cup held the official draw Saturday in Ottawa.
There are now match-ups for group play games and a playoff path to project in the first 24-team FIFA Women's World Cup, after six editions with 16.
And now it feels real?
"I think that's exactly how it is," enthused Christine Sinclair.
"We've been preparing for a long time but knowing who you are playing and who you are preparing for makes it seem like it's right around the corner," the Canadian captain said in answer to your correspondent's opening question on a conference call Saturday.
Exactly half a year away, on June 6, Canada will face China before an expected sellout crowd of 56,302 in the new seat configuration of Commonwealth Stadium.
Five days later, on June 11, also in Edmonton, Canadian coach John Herdman takes his northern girls against New Zealand, the team he previously coached.
Appropriately, the opening ceremonies and game will be held where this dream all began, when Sinclair played before 47,784 in the final of the FIFA 2002 U-19 Women's World Cup.
Sinclair said she and a few of her surviving U-19 teammates will now be able to picture the scene against China in an opening game the world will watch.
"We recall memories and great experiences we've had there. I remember playing at the U-19 World Cup and the fans gave us so much energy and so much support. You felt like you could run forever out there. And we're hoping for the same thing this coming summer.
"And I feel very lucky. Most players would feel fortunate to have one World Cup at home. I'm going to have two.
"I think it's a pretty good draw for us. Obviously we don't have any easy games in there. The three teams in our group are top quality. But they are three games we should expect to win," she said, including the other team in the group from the Netherlands.
"I see no reason why we can't win our group," is how head coach John Herdman put it.
Back when Sinclair came in, playing China in a World Cup opener would be a very scary proposition. Now "¦
"They used to be one of the powerhouses. Then they kind of fell off the map. I don't know too much about them. We beat them the last couple of times we played them but the last time we played them we only beat them 1-0.
Herdman said Canada plays China next month in the Four Nations Cup in Beijing and he has to do some thinking in how to handle that game.
"Do we sit players out and not show them parts of our game or do we go all out and build a mental edge on them?"
Herdman was thrilled to have New Zealand end up in the group and headed to experience a full-house experience in Edmonton.
"For personal and nostalgic reasons, it's a dream come true," is how he phrased it, answering my question on the conference call.
"It's a chance to share a cool moment for the only two groups I've worked before packed houses Edmonton. All my girls in one venue before 50,000-some Canadians "¦ very cool.
"I worked in New Zealand for 10 years. In 2005 I coached the U-20 team and we were quite successful. The following year I took over as national coach and cleared out a generation of players and stuck with my Under-20s. All those players are now playing in the top leagues in Europe.
"And Tony Readings is my old assistant coach."
Readings is thrilled to be playing in Edmonton.
"I have relatives in Edmonton and have been there on holidays before," he said.
"We're in the tightest group and we're the lowest ranked in that grouping but that doesn't represent how the teams will fare in the end. We will have three tough games. Canada is thinking ahead to the final and going all the way, not just getting out of their group."
First-time World Cup qualifier Netherlands will play Canada June 15 in Montreal.
Edmonton will also play host to a double header featuring Sweden-Australia and Cameroon-Switzerland on June 16, in addition to five playoff games including a semifinal featuring Canada, should they get through.
The Dutch will play both China and New Zealand in Edmonton in the other games of the double headers with Canada.
Canada, bronze medal winners at the Olympics and fourth place finishers at the USA 2003 Women's World Cup, is currently eighth in the FIFA world rankings.
China, once right up there with the USA as the top two teams in the world, dropped off the map and is now climbing the ladder again with a young team, ranked 14th. The Netherlands is ranked 15th and New Zealand 19th.
The games are all tough enough but all winnable. Canada will be favored to win the pool and if they don't stumble, they would arguably have the least difficult path possible toward returning to Edmonton for the semifinal on Canada Day.
"I think the draw is favourable. You can't just look at the group. You have to predict the route all the way through. If we win our group we might miss some of those podium threats through to the semifinal," said Herdman.
"We don't have a game in group play where we could rest some of our players. They're all strong teams. We can't mope around in the group."
Herdman had his fingers crossed that his team wouldn't draw England, Norway or Sweden.
"We're very happy with everything, the way the draw was handled, the way Canadians seemed to be proud of the way Canada 2015 was presented to the world and the way the draw worked out for our team," said Peter Montopoli, CEO of the FIFA Women's World Cup and general secretary of the Canadian Soccer Association.
With 300,000 of the 1.5 million tickets sold goal already achieved before the draw, having the schedule set is a huge moment in the selling of the event.
"We experienced a huge spike in ticket sales in the first hour after the draw," said Montopoli in a telephone interview.
"We have a major 'Bring On Holiday Cheers' advertising campaign ready to launch and some initiatives in the new year we think are very exciting."
Not only does Edmonton have the opening ceremonies and game, the city has the most games of the 52 in the tournament, with 11, and the most dates (doubleheaders counting as one) with eight. An all-game passport in Edmonton features four price levels: $235, $315, $405 and $495.
Montopoli said Edmonton sales have been the strongest of the six cities, since the launch.
FIFA WOMEN'S WORLD CUP
Follow me on Twitter.com/sunterryjones