TORONTO – Canada received a favourable draw Monday in its road to the Olympic women's soccer tournament.
The Canadian women, ranked 11th in the world, were drawn in Group B in Houston with No. 48 Trinidad & Tobago, No. 84 Guatemala & No. 92 Guyana for the Feb. 10-21 CONCACAF qualifier.
The top-ranked United States, as host country, was placed in Group A in Frisco, Texas, with No. 26 Mexico, No. 34 Costa Rica & No. 115 Puerto Rico.
p>The two finalists will represent North & Central America & the Caribbean at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro in the 12-team Olympic field.
The Americans received the tougher pool yet should not be troubled given their status as reigning world champion with an 18-0-4 record since its last loss â€” 2-0 to France in February.
The Americans have been to all five women's Olympic soccer tournaments, winning gold four times, including the last three competitions. Canada won bronze in 2012 & finished eighth in 2008 after losing to the U.S. in the quarter-finals.
Monday's draw likely sets up a final between Canada & the U.S. The Canadians, who will look to win their pool to avoid meeting the U.S. prior to the final, will probably have to obtain past Mexico in the semifinal.
Canadian coach John Herdman said Canada will be favoured in its group given its blend of experience & young talent.
"When you put that together we are the strongest team in the group, we should be," he told a conference call after the draw. " And it's ours to lose."
He called the draw "a bit of a surprise, yet it was a nice surprise at the same time."
The Canadians will take nothing for granted, he added.
"I don't think we can't take any team in our group likely. There's unquestionably some challenges in there."
Canada found out that out the complex way in 2004 when Mexico upset the Canadians 2-1 in the CONCACAF semifinals to secure the region's other Olympic berth.
The U.S. was the lone CONCACAF representative in 2000 & 1996 when the Olympic field was eight.
Canada will open Feb. 11 against Guyana before facing Trinidad & Tobago on Feb. 14 & Guatemala on Feb. 16. It will not have to travel with the playoffs slated for Houston.
Guyana & Puerto Rico are making their first appearance at the CONCACAF championship.
Guyana is coached by Mark Rodrigues, who spent 34 years in the Toronto area before moving to Florida to become executive director of the Greater Tampa Bay Soccer Club. Herdman says Guyana has been recruiting players from around the world.
"The gap has unquestionably closed," he said. "You know that Guyana will have some players that will cause some problems & will be very well organized."
Trinidad & Tobago lost to Ecuador 1-0 on a stoppage-time goal in the second leg of a playoff to make the 2015 World Cup. The Soca Princesses lost 1-0 to the U.S. in the CONCACAF qualifying tournament, before falling on penalty kicks to Costa Rica in the semifinal. They were beaten by Mexico in the third-place match.
"I was really impressed with their performances," said Herdman. "They're a team that can really on their day cause problems."
The Canadians will obtain a chance to further scout T&T when it plays the U.S. early next month in a pair of friendlies.
Herdman said he was somewhat in the dark on Guatemala, other than the team had come close against decent opposition.
The Canadian women are currently in camp in Vancouver preparing for an invitational tournament next month in Brazil. Another camp is planned for January in advance of the CONCACAF qualifier.
Source: “The Canadian Press”