It cannot be anything but a good sign that Canada’s women’s soccer team will play one of the most crucial matches of the 2012 London Olympics in the hometown of its head coach.
Drawn into a difficult pool with World Cup defending champion Japan and fifth-ranked Sweden, as well as South Africa, John Herdman’s team will play its first two games in Coventry before facing Sweden in his hometown of Newcastle. Herdman described that match against Sweden as being “the tournament-breaker, the real do-or-die game.”
The Olympic draw was conducted Tuesday at Wembley Stadium, which will be the site of the gold-medal match on Aug. 9. Canada’s first game will actually be two days before the opening ceremony, when it meets third-ranked Japan at Coventry’s Ricoh Arena on July 25.
Canada, which qualified for the Olympics in January by finishing second in the CONCACAF qualifiers in Vancouver, lost 2-1 to its arch-rivals, the United States, in the quarter-finals of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The United States, which is the defending gold medalist squad, has been drawn in a group with France, Colombia and North Korea. Host Britain will play in a group with Brazil, New Zealand and Cameroon.
The Canadian women will train for most of May before an exhibition game in Moncton against China on May 30. As part of their preparations, the seventh-ranked Canadian women will play in a tournament in Switzerland in early July.
The top two teams from each of three groups plus two of the three third-place teams will advance to the quarter-finals, which are scheduled for Aug. 3. The semi-finals will be Aug. 6.