The Canadian women’s team on Monday received a favourable draw for the upcoming CONCACAF qualifying tournament for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Canada, ranked 11th in the world by FIFA, will compete in Group B with Trinidad and Tobago (No. 48), Guatemala (No. 84) and Guyana (No. 92). Group A consists of the United States (No. 1), Mexico (No. 26), Costa Rica (No. 34) and Puerto Rico (No. 115).
The CONCACAF tournament runs from Feb. 10-21 in Dallas and Houston. The top two nations in each group advance to the semifinals. Only the two finalists qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. Canada will play all of its group stage games in Houston.
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Canadian coach John Herdman called the draw “interesting.”
“The last few years you’ve seen the tournament more evenly spread in terms of teams like Mexico, Costa Rica and the USA. So to see those three teams in one group, it was a surprise,” Herdman said.
He later added: “I don’t think we can’t take any team in our group likely. There’s definitely some challenges in there.”
Luck was on Canada’s side, as they not only avoided the top-ranked Americans, but also Mexico and Costa Rica, the third- and fourth-best nations in the CONCACAF region. Monday’s draw likely sets up a final between Canada and the U.S.
Herdman views Trinidad as Canada’s biggest challenge in the group stage after they narrowly missed out on qualifying for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
“They’re a team on their day that can cause problems,” Herdman said. “They have speed and power in the team, and from our perspective we have to be right on our game and in a good rhythm to break down what all the teams will provide, which is a real focus on their defensive structures.”
Traditionally, if you’re not in the United States’ group, you want to win yours so you can avoid the Americans in the semifinal, which is essentially a one-game playoff with an Olympic berth at stake. This time around the U.S. is in a tight group, and could finish second, which means Canada would still have to face them even if the Reds finish first their group.
“The U.S. might slip up in the group, so you might find them in the playoff matches,” Herdman said.
The Canadian team is currently training in Vancouver. It is preparing to play in a friendly competition, the International Tournament of Natal, in Brazil next month.
Canada has previously qualified for two Olympic tournaments. The Reds reached the quarterfinals in 2008 in Beijing. Four years later in London they lost to the U.S. in the semifinals before beating France for the bronze medal.