On Wednesday, Canada Soccer’s Women’s National Team found out its group ahead of the Tokyo Summer Olympics later this year, as they were drawn with Japan, Great Britain and Chile in Group E. Here’s our analysis of that draw, as well as some post-draw reaction from Canadian head coach, Bev Priestman, as their preparations for the summer continue in earnest.
The path is now laid out.
As the clock slowly continues to tick down towards the start of the Tokyo Summer Olympics later this year, Canada Soccer’s Women’s National Team found out a bit more about how their journey in Tokyo might look like, as FIFA and the IOC conducted the draw for both the Women’s and Men’s tournaments on Wednesday morning.
After qualifying for the tournament over 14 months ago, Canada will be happy to now know what awaits them in Tokyo, as they were drawn with hosts Japan, Great-Britain and Chile in what turned out to be a very well-rounded Group E.
They were guaranteed to be drawn with the hosts as their pot 1 team based on the configuration of the pots, as well as confederation restrictions that came with that, but it wasn’t sure if Canada, who were in pot 3, would be drawn with Great-Britain or Sweden out of pot 2, and Chile, Zambia or New Zealand from pot 4.
It ended up being Great-Britain and Chile, giving Canada a very tough group, one that won’t be easy to navigate.
And for Canada, they’re happy with that. As they continue to take steps forward under new head coach Bev Priestman, they want to take every opportunity to test themselves against tough teams, and that’s something their coach made sure to highlight when speaking about the draw on Wednesday.
“I think the draw for us is exciting,” Priestman told the media on a conference call. “To play a host nation (in Japan), Canada’s done that twice before with Brazil in the bronze medal match (in 2016), and Team GB (Great Britain) in 2012.”
“So I think that was the first immediate reaction for me, what an opening game to play, it’s where we want to be as coaches and as players. I think it’s a relatively tough group, and a great test. I think when you want to go win a medal, you’ve got to play the best teams, and I think (there are) two very good teams in our group, and then you look at Chile, they’re a good side, they’re hard to beat.”
In a congested Olympic format, one where teams will only be able to rely on 16 outfield players and 2 goalkeepers, Canada’s going to have to be ready to go right from the start, but from what it seems like, they’re more than up for that task at the moment.
As they look to medal for a third consecutive Olympic tournament, this is a grind that they’re more than familiar with, and they’ll feel that they have what it takes to navigate that path once again this summer.
And if they’re going to do that, they’ve got a pretty interesting fixture list to navigate, as their group stage schedule was also revealed in the draw.
They’ll start by hitting the ground running, as they take on hosts Japan in the opening game of the tournament on Wednesday, July 21st, before taking on Chile a few days later on Saturday, July 24th, and finishing off with their clash against Great Britain on Tuesday, July 27th.
To start off, that game against Japan will be tough, especially considering that Japan may be playing in front of a few fans, depending on what the Olympics committee decides there. Usually, Canada could rely on a smattering of their own support to counter that, but with pandemic-related restrictions likely to only allow local fans to attend events, that could give a big boost to Japan as hosts in this game.
After that, the Chile game will be a tough one on short rest, as the South American side will be expected to play Canada very hard, making it a game where the Canadians may have to step up to the table physically to battle through it.
Lastly, the Great-Britain game will be another tough clash to close off a tough group stage filled with them, and depending on how the other games go, it could prove to be a pivotal one in deciding how the group standings shake up.
So all-in-all, it’s not only a tough group draw for Canada, but it’s a pretty tough schedule as well, which will certainly make it hard on Priestman and her staff to navigate.
There are some positives to this, though.
By playing Japan in the opener, Canada will be immediately thrown into the fire, allowing them to get up to speed mentally. Then, the Chile match will provide them with another stiff test, while the Great Britain game could be the perfect game to finish on before heading to the knockout stages, allowing them to maintain a good competitive spirit before the tougher games that would await them, assuming they make it that far.
There’s never going to be a perfect draw, as each scenario would’ve offered positives and negatives, so all things considered, Canada did pretty well for themselves here.
And to learn a bit more about the three teams that Canada will face, here’s a quick blurb on each of the 3 Group 3 sides that they’ll play this summer.
We’ll do more of an in-depth preview of the teams closer to the tournament itself, but here’s a quick word on all 3 sides that Canada will be guaranteed to face in Tokyo, including some words from Priestman on a few of those teams.
(FIFA Ranking: 11th)
To start off, there are the hosts, Japan, who head into this tournament finding themselves at an interesting crossroads in their journey as a team.
Having gone through a golden generation in the early 2010s, winning the 2011 World Cup, finishing runners-up at the 2015 edition, while also adding a silver medal at the 2012 Olympics for good measure, Japan’s struggled to find similar results in recent years.
They failed to qualify for the 2016 Olympics, and got knocked out in the Round of 16 at the 2019 World Cup, giving an idea of the direction they’ve been trending towards as of late.
That doesn’t mean that they still can’t make any noise as hosts this year, though. Far from it, actually.
As Canada will know, having lost 4-0 to Japan in their last meeting back at the end of 2019, Japan still has plenty of technical ability in their squad, and have slowly been transitioning in a new generation of players in their early-20s to replace a lot of the players who dominated the international scene in the early 2010s.
They’ve got a lot of players playing for good teams in the NWSL and in Europe, which combined with some good coaching, has allowed them to remain as one of the top teams in the world despite the ongoing transition they’ve undergone in their squad.
Japan might not be a team that exerts a lot of physical output in games, but they play very technical football, and can really punish teams with their skill when they’re allowed to control games, as Canada saw first-hand in that last meeting.
So for Canada, the goal has to be to disrupt that rhythm, especially in midfield areas, and do some damage in transition wherever possible.
“Yeah, I think I’ve had quite a lot of experience playing Japan, myself,” Priestman said. “I think if you let a team like Japan get too much rhythm, I think they can really dictate everything with the ball, I think we have to know that they enjoy having the ball, and that can work in our favour, for sure.”
“They’re definitely a technical team that can move that ball quickly, so our job will be to disrupt that rhythm, you know that they’re very organized, they haven’t changed the way they played that got them the gold medal, silver medals (in the past), so (they’re) a top, top team, but I think we have to maximize our strengths against Japan, stop them in their rhythm, and then when we have the goal, really utilize what we have in our team in power and pace, and as you’ve seen recently, some technical ability, as well, so I think it’ll be a great game, great opening game, and I know any player will want to be involved in that. But yeah, absolutely. I think we’ve got to maximize our strengths in that game, for sure.”
(FIFA Ranking: 37th)
Then, there’s the plucky Chileans, who are a late riser on the international scene, having made their first World Cup back in 2019, before making the Olympics for the first time this edition via a big win over Cameroon in an intercontinental playoff.
They might not have the most talented squad of the 4 teams in this group, but they will be far from an easy out, as they showed back at the 2019 World Cup, where they only lost 2-0 to semi-finalists, Sweden, and 3-0 to eventual champions, the US, in group stage play. Along with a big 2-0 win over Thailand, it was overall a pretty good maiden voyage in a major international tournament for Chile, and they’ll want to build off of that in Japan.
Backed by a squad led by some players playing in Europe, combined with a solid base of players plying their trades in a growing Chilean league, they’ve got a solid roster, one that is well-coached and organized.
And plus, they have one of the best players in the tournament, goalkeeper Christiane Endler, who will be expected to keep them in these games with her play between the sticks. For those unaware of who Endler is, she happens to be the goalkeeper for a Paris Saint-German team that is currently leading the French league, and is fresh off of knocking out 5-time consecutive Champions League winners Lyon in the quarter-finals of that tournament this past week, giving a good idea of how solid of a player the 29-year-old is.
So for Canada, they’ll be sure to bring their A-game against the Chileans despite them being a pot 4 team, knowing that they have full potential to be a team that can play spoiler if the opportunity presents itself.
Considering Canada also famously lost to Chile in a matchup back in 2013, which happened to be right in the midst of what can arguably be described as a golden generation for Canada, they have every reason to be prudent heading into their clash with Chile, and rightfully so.
“Yeah, I think it was 2013 when I think Canada played Chile and there was an upset, Canada lost in that game,” Priestman said. “And the reason I think they lost looking back at it, was that they’re a team that sort of player-orientated, (they have a) very different style to what Canadians traditionally would face, in their upbringing in traditionally who we would play on the world stage. So, I think it will be an unorthodox type of game, there’ll be a hard team to break down, they’ll have that element of surprise that you see from an Argentina, but I do think it will be a tough game.”
“You look at their results against top 10 teams, it’s not been massive scorelines, it’s been relatively close, so I think for us in that game, I think a little bit like Argentina, the patience element, it might not be you an early goal, it might be a 90+ (minute) goal, we just have to go into that game more clinical than we were in that Argentina game (at She Believes Cup) which I think we’ve seen in the recent tour (in the UK).”
She added: “But absolutely, we won’t be taking Chile lightly, I don’t think we can, I think that could be the banana skin of the group, if you let it be, so I think we will absolutely pay them their respect in what they’ve done in recent times, and we absolutely have to be clinical, but at the same time, try and keep a clean sheet in that game and know that we will have the quality, if we apply it well in that game, to get the result.”
(FIFA Ranking: England – 6th, Scotland – 23rd, Wales – 32nd, Northern Ireland – 48th).
And then last, and most definitely not least, we’ve got the most fascinating team in the group, Great Britain, who will be the true wildcard of this tournament, for a multitude of reasons.
Despite having qualified as England, they head to the Olympics as Great Britain, due to the fact that the United Kingdom still participates in the Olympics under that flag, with the Olympics being one of the only sporting events where that is still the case.
And it’s no insignificant agreement, as it means that Great Britain will be allowed to take players from any of the 4 nations that find themselves within the United Kingdom, which are England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
From what we’ve seen, it’s expected that Great Britain goes for a team majorly composed of English and Scottish players, given their higher rankings, but it’ll be interesting to see if any Welsh or Northern Irish players find their way to sneak into the 18-person squad.
But due to this unique roster construction, it makes it hard to analyze this team, as you wonder how fast they’ll be able to come together before this tournament.
What we do know, though, is that a big chunk of the squad is expected to be English, and considering England made the semi-finals in both the 2015 and 2019 World Cup’s, that’s to be expected.
Where things get interesting are with Scotland, who are fresh off of making the World Cup for the first time in their history back in 2019, and have a couple of players currently making plenty of noise at top English teams. With Great Britain’s manager for this tournament being interim English manager, Hege Riise, you do wonder what sort of selections she may make for her roster, especially in terms of players coming from any of the 3 other countries.
From a Canadian perspective, however, they’ll try to prepare with the mindset that they’re playing 6th-ranked England, knowing that it may be hard to project in what direction Great Britain chooses to go with their squad.
With Canada fresh off of beating England this month in a friendly, while looking pretty good tactically in the process, the best plan will just be for them to build off of what they showed in that match, and try to translate that into this game.
And plus, as the last team to play Great Britain in the group stages, they do have the advantage of seeing what they may look like in the other 2 games, allowing them to game plan accordingly, which could prove to be quite beneficial for Priestman and her staff.
So now, the onus will be on Priestman and her staff to continue the preparations they’ve already undertaken ahead of this tournament, and that will continue into June, where an international window awaits them.
They’re yet to schedule any friendlies for that June window quite yet, but that’s mostly due to the fact that they were waiting to know their Olympic draw before doing so, so now that they’ve sorted that out, news should be expected to come out on that front in the next week or so.
Priestman confirmed as much on Wednesday, while also giving a peek into what sort of opposition she and her staff are working to get games with at the moment, providing Canada with a good test before the games get going for real.
“Yeah, I think obviously we had some opposition (potentially lined up) in and around, but everyone was waiting naturally on this draw,” Priestman said. “I think there’s definitely some opportunity there to play top 10 opposition, that’s my hope. So I think in the next week, we’ll finalize what that June window looks like, I’m hoping for two games in that window, and then potentially two games before the Olympics, so four remaining games before we head into the Olympic competition.”
Based on what she said, the likely outcome will be for Canada to play some European teams, possibly either a team that’s in the Olympics, but not in their group, such as the Netherlands or Sweden, or another team that’s in the top 10 but not at Tokyo, such as Germany or France.
Either way, tough tests await them, both in terms of these friendlies, but also the games themselves, as we learned on Wednesday morning.
But as Canada looks to return to the podium at the Olympics once again, they’re relishing that, as they’ll look to prove that they’re still one of the best teams in the world come July.
It won’t be easy, but as they continue to progress under Priestman, they’ll believe that they have what it takes to go far this summer, and now that they know the path that awaits them, they’ll prepare accordingly.
As a big year continues for the Canadian Women’s National Team, this draw was another important pit stop in the midst of a long journey, one of which they know a little bit more about after Wednesday.
Cover Photo via: Canada Soccer/Will Palmer