Feature photo: Team Canada defender Kadeisha Buchanan
Should the Canadian women’s team return to an Olympic football podium at Rio 2016, it must first pass a Texas test in qualifying.
The regional (CONCACAF) qualification draw was made on Monday that put the London 2012 bronze medal-winning Canadians in Group B with Guatemala, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago for matches to be played in Houston from February 11, 2016.
Group A features the current Olympic gold medallist and FIFA Women’s World Cup winner, United States, with Costa Rica, Mexico and Puerto Rico.
Canada is by far the top ranked team in its group at number 11 in the latest FIFA women’s football rankings. Trinidad and Tobago (no. 48), Guatemala (84) and Guyana (92) are well behind the Canadians in global stature. This should make Canada’s path to the semifinals easier with top two teams advancing. Each semifinal winner automatically books an Olympic spot.
“We’re excited,” head coach John Herdman said in a Canada Soccer release. “We have the squad back in camp and it’s an exciting group of players with lots of energy.”
The team is training in Vancouver before it leaves for a tournament in Brazil next month. Herdman said he and his staff “are taking a hard look at the players” and will select the squad for Olympic qualification in January.
While Canada should have a relatively easy time getting out of its division, Group A looks to intrigue with top ranked Americans stalked by world no. 26 and national rival Mexico, and similarly placed Costa Rica, which is 34th in the FIFA table.
Regardless of the difference in rankings, Herdman conceded that lower seeded teams are constantly bridging the gap in quality and that it’ll be “a challenging qualification campaign.”
NOTE: Canadian men will not be playing Olympic football at Rio 2016. After getting to the ‘win-and-you’re-in’ semifinals, Canada lost 2-0 to Mexico. It then played a third place match where the winner would head to a play-off to keep Olympic hope alive, which Canada lost 2-0 to the United States.