Windsor Star

Canada grouped with Japan in Games draw

Women's soccer squad also gets Chile, Great Britain in round-robin tourney

- DEREK VAN DIEST dvandiest@postmedia.com Twitter: @Derekvandi­est

The Tokyo Olympics got a little closer for the Canadian women's national soccer team with the tournament draw held early Wednesday morning.

Canada was placed into a group with hosts Japan, Great Britain and Chile at the official Olympic draw at FIFA headquarte­rs in Zurich, Switzerlan­d.

Canada opens the Olympic tournament July 21 against Japan, then face Chile on July 24, both at the Sapporo Dome, and conclude the round-robin portion of the 12-team tournament on July 27, against Great Britain in Kashima.

“I think the draw for us is exciting and I think playing the host nation in the opening game is where we want to be as coaches and players,” said Canada coach Bev Priestman. “I think it's a relatively tough group and a great test. When you want to go win a medal, you have to play the best teams and we have two very good teams in our group.

“Then if you look at Chile, they're a good side, they're hard to beat. I think that game will be a tough test and I can imagine they will be a hard team to break down.”

The other two groups in the tournament consist of China, Brazil, Zambia and the Netherland­s, while the United States was drawn in with Sweden, Australia and New Zealand. The two teams in each group, along with the best two third-place finishers advance to the knockout round of the tournament.

The bronze medal game is on Aug. 5, in Kashima, and the gold medal game is Aug. 6, in Tokyo. Canada have won bronze at the past two Olympic tournament­s.

“Overall, it's three good games and I'm excited to play Japan in the opening game,” Priestman said. “Now everyone got more focused than ever, we're looking at the opponents and getting those teams broken down.

“When you're in a tournament the last thing you want to do is figure out the details of your opponents, you should have most of the work done and it's about updating that. We have to be really thorough breaking them down, but also not forget about us and our strength. I think that's the danger if you emphasize the opposition, you can forget what your own identity is and I think that's the balance and the task and how you put that across on the players.”

Canada will take a 20-player roster to the Olympics, which includes two goalkeeper­s. The team is expected to have two more exhibition games in June and a pair prior to the Games to prepare for the tournament.

Priestman has a difficult task of paring down her roster. Canada is currently a team in transition with a number of talented youngsters pushing for spots at the expense of veteran players with loads of internatio­nal experience.

“I think between now and

June, it's about us looking at those players, tracking them week in and week out at their club and seeing how fit they are,” Priestman said. “I think that's a huge considerat­ion going into the Olympics. You can imagine by that third game against GB, you need players that can go back-to-back-to-back.

“There is definitely a group of players that are touch and go, you have some players coming back from injury, so the June (internatio­nal) window will be the deciding window to finalize that roster.”

Barring injury there are a few names who are locks to be on the team, including the top internatio­nal goal scorer of all time Christine Sinclair. But since Priestman has taken over the team, a number of younger players have made an impression and worked themselves into considerat­ion as possible Olympians.

Priestman has only been at the helm for five games since taking over for Kenneth Heiner-moller, and the Olympics will be her first major internatio­nal tournament in charge of the program.

A recent 2-0 victory against England and 3-0 win over Wales has Canada in a confident mood heading toward the Olympics.

Japan, however, are favourites to win the gold medal on home soil, while Great Britain has benefited from having one of the strongest women's leagues in the world and will be difficult to beat.

The game that will likely determine whether Canada gets out of the group will be against Chile.

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