By Neil Davidson
THE CANADIAN PRESS
The Canadian women’s soccer team has left virtually no stone unturned ahead of next year’s World Cup.
Coach John Herdman has looked to have his team play in tournament venues to familiarize themselves with hotels, training facilities and locker-rooms. They’ve even timed the drive from the hotel to the stadium.
“We’ve said this to the players. The one thing we’ll do is make sure that we’re the most organized and prepared team for a home World Cup and really take advantage of the fact that we are at home,” said Herdman. “With the support that’ll we get and the Canadian roar behind us, I think the other piece that we can make sure is that there isn’t any logistics that we haven’t had experience of. There won’t be too many things tripping us up.”
But Saturday’s draw at the Museum of History in Gatineau, Que., is out of Herdman’s hands, although the Canadian braintrust has been studying the possible permutations for months.
With the field not set until Tuesday (Ecuador beat Trinidad and Tobago to became the 24th participant), FIFA has yet to divulge details of the draw procedure. That will happen at a news conference in Ottawa on Friday when the seedings and pots are announced.
As host, eighth-ranked Canada will be placed atop Pool A and will play its first two games in Edmonton and the third in Montreal.
Each of the other five pools will get a seeded country to keep the elite teams apart in the round-robin stage.
The U.S., Germany and defending champion Japan, currently ranked No. 1 through 3 in the world, are certainties to be seeded. No. 4 France is also likely to earn a seed.
That leaves No. 5 Sweden and No. 6 Brazil favoured for the final seed with No. 7 England and No. 9 Norway also in the running.
Canada will be kept away from the U.S. and No. 40 Costa Rica in the pool stage to spread the CONCACAF content.
“You can’t really get a good prediction until after the draw,” said Herdman, a native of Newcastle, England, who took over Canada after a disastrous 2011 World Cup. “But what is guaranteed is we know who the seeded teams are likely to be. And you know which teams that your worst-case scenario, group of death, might be.”
A worst-case scenario for Canada could be a group with Africa champion Nigeria (widely seen as far better than its No. 35 ranking), Asian runner-up Australia (No. 10) or No. 14 China, and No. 7 England or No. 9 Norway.
“There are definitely some challenges,” said Herdman.
That includes just about any European team. The lowest-ranked of the eight European entries is No. 18 Switzerland.
“There’s no pushovers at the world level now of women’s football. But there definitely are some Tier 1 teams we don’t want in our group and some Tier 2 and 3 teams that will be more preferable,” said Herdman.
“You expect to play five Tier 1 teams in a World Cup to get to a final,” he added. “You may actually have one of those teams in your group which impacts the rotation of your squad, your substitutes, your planning, et cetera et cetera. These things have to be considered.
“How may games does (captain Christine) Sinclair have to play back-to-back? Can she go all seven if we have a tough group? These are things we have to consider and be one step ahead of the curve if we can.”
The draw was not kind to Canada, then ranked sixth in the world, at the 2011 tournament in Germany. The Canadians, under coach Carolina Morace, went 0-3-0 while being outscored 7-1 in a pool with European champion Germany, African champion Nigeria and France.
Canada could finish as low as third in its group and still advance to the knockout stage. But its route will be easier in terms of opposition and geography if it wins its pool.
The 2015 tournament is slated for June 6 to July 5 in Moncton, Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver,
Herdman’s team has already played friendlies in Vancouver, Edmonton, Montreal and Winnipeg this year.
It’s been a tough schedule despite the familiar surroundings with Herdman testing out talent and tactics. Canada went 4-5-2 this year with the losses coming against Japan (twice), the U.S., Germany and England.
Saturday’s draw will impact Canada’s pre-tournament schedule, with Herdman looking to play teams similar in nature to those awaiting at the competition. He expects Canada will play around 13 games in advance in 2015.
NOTES _ Officials from other teams get their own chance to inspect the Canadian venues next week … FIFA president Sepp Blatter is not slated to attend the draw although at least 23 of the coaches are (Brazil, which hosts a four-team tournament next week, is a question-mark) … With only Canada’s Sinclair expected at the draw among the participant player pool, talk of the ongoing artificial turf debate may be limited.
Follow (at)NeilMDavidson on Twitter