Canada at the FIFA Women’s World Cup: What you need to know

Canadian coach Kenneth Heiner-Møller, goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe and forward Janine Beckie look ahead to the team's opener vs. Cameroon at the Women's World Coup. (Courtesy Soccer Canada)

One of the biggest sporting events on the planet kicks off this week, and Canada could play a starring role in how it plays out over the next month.

Here’s what you need to know about the Canadian team set to compete at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

When and where is the World Cup being held?

The tournament begins on Friday and concludes in the first week of July.

The round-robin portion of the competition runs from June 7 until June 20, and the knockout stage begins on June 22 with the Round of 16. The final is scheduled for July 7.

Nine cities across France will host games: Lyon, Paris, Nice, Montpellier, Rennes, Le Havre, Valenciennes, Reims and Grenoble. Lyon will stage both semifinals and the final, while the third-place match will take place in Nice.

Canada opens its World Cup account on June 10 against Cameroon in Montpellier before facing New Zealand on June 15 in Grenoble and the Netherlands on June 20 in Reims.

To consult the full tournament schedule, CLICK HERE.

What are the opening round groups?

The 24-nation field is divided into six round-robin groups. The top two teams in each group advance to the knockout stage. The four-best third-place sides also move on to the next round.

Below are the six groups, with the team’s current FIFA world ranking in parenthesis.

GROUP A: France (4), South Korea (14), Norway (12), Nigeria (38)

GROUP B: Germany (2), China (16), Spain (13), South Africa (49)

GROUP C: Australia (6), Italy (15), Brazil (10), Jamaica (53)

GROUP D: England (3), Scotland (20), Argentina (37), Japan (7)

GROUP E: Canada (5), Cameroon (46), New Zealand (19), Netherlands (8)

GROUP F: United States (1), Thailand (34), Chile (39), Sweden (9)

To see the group standings, CLICK HERE.

What does the Canadian team look like?

Canadian coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller has put together a side that blends youth and veteran leadership.

Leading the way is captain Christine Sinclair, who is Canada’s all-time leader in goals (181) and appearances (282). In total, there are 12 players with at least 50 caps on this 23-player roster, including midfielders Sophie Schmidt (184) and Desiree Scott (143). Sinclair will be playing in her fifth World Cup, tying a team record held by former goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc.

Sinclair is one of nine returning players from the Canadian team that reached the quarterfinals of the 2015 World Cup held on home soil. The others are Schmidt, Scott, Kadeisha Buchanan, Stephanie Labbe, Allysha Chapman, Jessie Fleming, Ashley Lawrence and Adriana Leon.

Two notable roster omissions due to injury are veteran midfielder Diana Matheson (toe) and goalkeeper Erin McLeod (foot). Combined, they have 321 caps for Canada, and ordinarily the loss of Matheson and McLeod would be big blows. But Canada has more than enough depth and quality to overcome their absences.

There are also nine players with 21 or fewer caps on this Canadian roster, including Jordyn Huitema (21 caps), an 18-year-old forward who is considered one of Canada’s best prospects. The other teenagers on the team are midfielder Julia Grosso (16 caps) and defender Jayde Riviere (five caps).

The average age of the squad is 25.33 years, according to Canada Soccer, which makes it the third youngest squad at the World Cup.

Here’s the full Canadian roster:

Goalkeepers: Sabrina D’Angelo, Vittsjo GIK (Sweden); Stephanie Labbe, North Carolina Courage (NWSL); Kailen Sheridan, Sky Blue FC (NWSL).

Defenders: Lindsay Agnew, Houston Dash (NWSL); Kadeisha Buchanan, Olympique Lyonnais (France); Allysha Chapman, Houston Dash (NWSL); Jenna Hellstrom, KIF Orebro (Sweden); Ashley Lawrence, Paris Saint-Germain (France); Rebecca Quinn, Paris FC (France); Jayde Riviere, Markham SC; Shannon Woeller, Eskilstuna United DFF (Sweden); Shelina Zadorsky, Orlando Pride (NWSL).

Midfielders: Deanne Rose, University of Florida; Julia Grosso, University of Texas at Austin; Desiree Scott, Utah Royals FC (NWSL); Sophie Schmidt, Houston Dash (NWSL); Jessie Fleming, UCLA.

Forwards: Janine Beckie, Manchester City (England); Gabrielle Carle, Florida State University; Jordyn Huitema, Paris Saint-Germain (France); Adriana Leon, West Ham United (England); Nichelle Prince, Houston Dash (NWSL); Christine Sinclair (capt.), Portland Thorns (NWSL).

What’s this about Christine Sinclair breaking a record?

Already her country’s top scorer, Sinclair netted her 181st goal and collected an assist to guide Canada to a 3-0 win over Mexico in a friendly in Toronto last month.

Sinclair, a 35-year-old native of Burnaby, B.C., now needs only four goals to surpass retired U.S. star Abby Wambach as the all-time leading international scorer in women’s soccer. If all goes well, Sinclair will write her name into the record books this month in France.

Sinclair, though, remains focused not on the goal-scoring milestone but on winning the World Cup, and thus adding the one honour missing from her impressive resume, which includes 14 Canadian player of the year awards.

“It’ll be nice if and when it happens; I’m not going to lie. I’m proud of the amount of goals I’ve scored and my national team career. But, heading into the World Cup, it is by no means my focus. If it happens in France, it happens in France. If it doesn’t, we’ll deal with that later. I’m sure it will come, but as soon as we get on that plane to Europe it’s all about helping this team trying to win the World Cup,” Sinclair said.

How good is this Canadian team?

The Canadian women’s side is unbeaten in 2019, with six wins from nine matches, and just two goals conceded. Of the nine games the Reds have played this year, seven of them were against teams ranked in the FIFA world top 20. Canada’s previous loss was a 2-0 setback against the No. 1-ranked United States in the CONCACAF Women’s Championship final last October.

Sinclair thinks very highly of this current Canadian squad.

“My time on the national team has been a roller-coaster, a journey, ups and downs. I can honestly say I’ve been waiting my entire career for this team, in that they’re so talented [and] have the depth to be able to compete at World Cups and Olympics. That excites me. We’re just so much more talented than we have ever been,” stated Sinclair, who debuted for the senior team as a teenager in 2000.

Canada’s best World Cup showing came in 2003 when it reached the semifinals and then lost to the U.S. in the third-place match. The Reds have high hopes of improving on their quarterfinal showing from four years ago, but to do that they’ll have to get more balanced scoring, as Sinclair has scored four of the team’s eight goals this year.

On the current squad, Janine Beckie ranks second in scoring with 25 goals. Schmidt (19) and Leon (15) are the only others to have scored more than 10 goals. Canada can’t rely just on goals just from Sinclair in France – others need to step up if the Reds are to go deep at the World Cup.

Beckie, 24, might be the player other than Sinclair to lead the charge, as she has a nose for goal and has shown that she can effectively link up with the Canadian captain. Sinclair called Beckie a “world-class” player, who is easy to play off of on the pitch.

“The relationship between her and I has been something we’ve been building for four years. It just keeps getting better and better. Today, you saw it click. … If [Beckie] is not scoring goals, she usually has a hand in them one way or another,” Sinclair said.

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