Olympic soccer draw will allow Canadians to start planning on and off the pitch

·5 min read

Wednesday's Olympic soccer draw will answer a lot of questions for Canada coach Bev Priestman, allowing her to finalize plans on and of the pitch.

First, the 34-year-old will learn whom eighth-ranked Canada will face in the group stage at the Tokyo Games — although the FIFA draw procedures have already provided a hint of that — and start planning ways to beat them.

"Definitely scouting will kick in. And that's when you start to get excited as a technical coach," Priestman said Monday from Vancouver.

But Priestman and her staff will also be able to plan the team's arrival in Japan, based off its match schedule, and map out Canada's final warmup games to prepare for their Olympic opponents.

"Every country that we've been in contact with are all waiting on this moment, on the draw," she said. "That's basically what we're waiting for, before we can kick into action really."

"There's been a lot of question marks that have prevented us being able to plan," she added. "But at the same time, I think 2020, 2021, has made us much better at that."

The draw is set for early Wednesday morning at FIFA headquarters in Zurich.

Using the April rankings, the 12 teams in the women's Olympic field have been divided into four pots for the draw, which will determine the three groups of four.

Pot 1 contains host Japan (ranked No. 11), the U.S. (No. 1), and the Netherlands (No. 3) while Pot 2 is made up of Sweden (No. 5), Britain (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are ranked separately by FIFA) and Brazil (No. 7).

Canada is in Pot 3 along with Australia (No. 9) and China (No. 14). Pot 4 consists of New Zealand (No. 22), Chile (No. 37) and Zambia (No. 104).

FIFA says the "general principle" for the tournament draw is to ensure that no group has more than one team from the same confederation.

Applying that, Canada should end up in a group with host Japan, either Sweden or Britain and one of New Zealand, Chile and Zambia.

Based on FIFA's draw procedures, Canada should avoid the CONCACAF rival Americans to start. And with Australia and China being in the same Asian confederation as Japan, the Canadians should end up in a pool with the host country as the only Pot 3 country that fits.

The same principle should also mean that the Netherlands will draw Brazil out of Pot 2, to avoid UEFA's Sweden and Britain, which would mean Canada will face one of those European foes.

Priestman also sees it that way.

"That's my interpretation of it, yes … but I think FIFA haven't committed to it's as black and white as that," she said.

Asked if that interpretation was correct, FIFA referred a reporter to the draw procedures, adding "we will not speculate on the draws."

Britain qualified via England's performance at the 2019 Women's World Cup — the three best-placed European teams earned Olympic berths — so was allocated to a pot based on England's position (No. 6) in the rankings.

Sweden knocked the Canadians out of the 2019 World Cup in France in the round of 16. Canada beat Britain 2-0 in the quarterfinals of the 2012 Games in London, where Canada won bronze — as it did four years later in Rio.

Getting Japan, the lowest-ranked team in Pot 1, is no guarantee of success given Canada is 4-7-3 against the Japanese, losing 4-0 last time out in October 2019.

But Priestman has recent scouting intel on the Japanese, given the Asian side was slated to take part in February's SheBelieves Cup before pulling out due to pandemic-related travel issues.

And Canada has experience facing the host country from the 2016 Games in Brazil.

Canada (ranked 10th at the time) was drawn in a group with Germany (No. 2), Australia (No. 5) and Zimbabwe (No. 95) at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

The Canadian women upset Germany to top the group with three wins. They defeated France 1-0 in the quarterfinals before falling 2-0 to eventual champion Germany in the semifinals. Canada then downed Brazil 2-1 for the bronze.

Priestman was part of John Herdman's coaching staff in Rio. Herdman is now running the Canadian men's team.

As for submitting her 18-woman Tokyo roster, Priestman says she will wait until the last possible moment in order to give injured players like forward Adriana Leon (foot) and goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan (quad) time to recover.

The hope is they will be back for a June camp during a FIFA international window, Priestman plans to assemble her players again some 10 days later for a pre-Olympic camp.

"There's a few sort of jigsaw pieces that I think by the end of this week we'll be able to put those in place and then know exactly where our pre- (Olympic) camp will be."

The Olympic soccer tournament runs July 21 to Aug. 7 in Tokyo, Sapporo, Miyagi, Kashima, Saitama and Yokohama.

On a personal note, Priestman has been reunited with wife Emma Humphries and their son Jack with the family now settled in Vancouver and the move from England, where Priestman had been working with the Lionesses prior to taking the Canada job last fall, complete.

Also Wednesday, the 16 men's sides in Tokyo will be drawn into four groups of four.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 19, 2021.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press