What a favourable draw means for Canada at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup

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What a favourable draw means for Canada at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup

Luck appears to have been on the side of Canada’s women’s team during Saturday’s draw in Auckland for the 2023 FIFA World Cup. 

The seventh-ranked Canadians were in Pot 2 and avoided five of the top ranked teams in the world who were in Pot 1. As a result, Canada ended up receiving a favourable outcome as it was drawn into Group B alongside World Cup co-host Australia (No. 13), Ireland (No. 24) and Nigeria (No. 45) for next summer’s tournament.

Australia was the second-lowest-ranked team Canada could have been pooled with out of Pot 1. Only co-host New Zealand (No. 22) had a lower ranking in the pot. In drawing Australia, Canada avoided tournament favourites Sweden (No. 2), Germany (No. 3), England (No. 4), France (No. 5) and Spain (No. 6).

Despite the advantageous draw, Canadian coach Bev Priestman played it cool when speaking to reporters afterwards, saying “It could be worse, it could be better.”

“Overall, there aren’t really any easy games. Even the likes of Ireland, Vera Pauw is a very experienced coach, they recently drew with Sweden… and they’ll be out to prove in their opening game they belong at this World Cup,” Priestman said.

“I’m excited more than anything, especially to get a [host] nation, I think that’s going to bring an incredible atmosphere.” 

Notwithstanding Priestman downplaying Canada’s favourable draw, the reigning Olympic champions have to be considered the strong favourites to win Group B. The top two nations in each of the eight groups move on to the knockout round of the World Cup, which has been expanded from 24 to 32 teams.

WATCH | Canada’s Group B draw:

Canada draw Australia, Ireland, Nigeria in Group B of 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup

CBC Sports’ Signa Butler breaks down Canada’s draw for the upcoming 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand next summer.

Canadians have had Matilda’s number lately

The Canadians lead the all-time series against Australia with eight wins and three draws in 18 games since their first meeting on Dec. 12, 1997. Canada has lost just two of the last 11 matches (7-2-2) against the Matildas, and earned a pair of wins against the World Cup co-hosts in Australia in September.

World Cup debutantes Ireland has played Canada only once before, suffering a 2-1 loss in 2014. Canada sports an all-time record of 2-1-2 against Nigeria, recording a 2-0 win and 2-2 tie in a pair of matches in April in B.C. They also previously met at the World Cup, playing to a 3-3 draw in 1995, before the Africans registered a 1-0 upset win in 2011 when Canada finished in last place in the 16-team tournament.

Canada’s coach Bev Priestman is shown arriving for the football draw ceremony of the Australia and New Zealand 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup at the Aotea Centre in Auckland on Saturday. (William West/AFP via Getty Images)

“I think Nigeria are a very difficult team to play,” Priestman offered. “I think you saw that, particularly in the second game we played them [in Victoria], albeit, we made some rotations [to the starting lineup]. They’re not an easy team to play and out of [Pot 3], they were the team you didn’t want.

“I think they have athleticism, they seem more organized than they have been and have a very good coach in Randy [Waldrum], so we won’t be underestimating them.”

Canada will play all of its matches at next summer’s World Cup in Australia, including in the knockout round. The Olympic champions open their tournament vs. Nigeria on July 21 in Melbourne. Canada then faces Ireland on July 26 in Perth before taking on Australia on July 31 back in Melbourne.

Canada avoids trio of powerhouses 

The Canadians were also fortunate in that the top-ranked United States, Sweden and Spain ended up on the other side of the bracket as a result of Saturday’s draw. But winning Group B is vitally important for Canada, as it would mean avoiding a round-of-16 showdown with England, the reigning European champions who also recently defeated the U.S. Both France and Germany are potential quarter-final and seminal opponents.

Should both Canada and England win their respective groups, a much easier second-round match against No. 15 China or No. 18 Denmark would likely await Priestman’s side.

“We have to be aiming to top our group because you look at the crossovers, and I’m not saying it’s a given that England will win their group, but you want to avoid them in the round of 16. Any team would say that based on their recent success. So, we have to go in with the mindset that we can and will top that group, but it’s never easy in a tournament setting. Anything can happen,” Priestman said.

Historically, the Canadians have struggled for success at the World Cup. Their best showing came in 2003 when they reached the semifinals and finished fourth overall. But aside from that, Canada has failed to get out of the group stage on four occasions, and underwhelmed when it hosted the World Cup in 2015, bowing out in the quarter-finals. Canada was eliminated in the round of 16 at the 2019 tournament in France.

Former Brazil player Gilberto Silva displays the country Canada during the football draw ceremony for the Australia and New Zealand 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup at the Aotea Centre in Auckland on Saturday. (William West/AFP via Getty Images)

‘Feels like a shift in how people feel’

But the Reds have been the talk of the women’s game ever since winning gold at last summer’s Tokyo Olympics, an impressive run that saw them beat top-ranked nations Brazil, the U.S. and Sweden.

Prior to Saturday’s event in Auckland, Priestman mingled with coaches and officials from other teams, with several of them expressing how they weren’t eager to meet the Olympic champions in the group stage or knockout round.

“That’s quite humbling because [we were in Pot 2] with Brazil and some real powerhouses in the women’s game. It very much feels like there’s a shift in how people will feel to get Canada in their group or even the potential crossover. So, that’s good. But at the same time, we’ve got to keep pushing forward so that’s sustained,” Priestman said.

Between now and next summer, Canada will make use of the four FIFA international windows to play World Cup tune-up matches. Priestman said on Saturday that Canada Soccer is in the final stages of lining up road games for next month and February. After that, the aim is to have home matches in April, Priestman confirmed.