Canada has been given a stiff test in Group B with Nigeria, Japan and Spain for the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Papua New Guinea in November.
Canadian coach Danny Worthington relishes the challenge, however.
“Across the board when you get to that level – the under-20 World Cup – I think every game’s a tough game,” he said from Vancouver. “I’m excited actually, excited about it.
“You’ve got a mixture of styles of play that we’re going to face.”
Nigeria, the seeded team in the pool, was runner-up to Germany at the 2014 tournament in Canada and fourth in 2012.
Japan won its regional U-20 qualifying tournament and captured the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2014 when it beat Spain in the final. The Spanish women, meanwhile, were runner-up to Sweden in European U-20 qualifying.
The Canadian women made the U-20 World Cup quarter-finals as host in 2014, losing to Germany. Canada exited in the quarter-finals of the U-17 event two years ago.
Group A consists of host Papua New Guinea, Brazil, Sweden and North Korea. Pool C is France, the United States, Ghana and New Zealand while Group D features Germany, Venezuela, Mexico and South Korea.
Canada will likely face Brazil, Sweden or North Korea in quarter-finals if it progresses. The top two in each pool advance.
The draw for the tournament, which runs from Nov. 13 to Dec. 3, was held Thursday in Zurich.
Papua New Guinea, as host, was one of the seeded teams along with Nigeria, the United States and Germany. Teams could not be placed with another country from its confederation, meaning Canada was kept apart from the Americans and Mexico.
It’s a busy year for the Canadian women, who have qualified for the U-17 and U-20 World Cups as well as the Olympics.
Worthington, who coached Canada’s entry last summer at the Pan Am Games, will be able to draw on more talent after Rio. National team midfielders Deanne Rose (16) and Jessie Fleming (18) and forward Gabrielle Carle (17) are all eligible – the U-20 world championship is open to players born after Jan. 1, 1996, and before Dec. 31, 2000.
He has camps planned in May, July and September before a final November preparation event.
It’s Canada’s seventh trip to the U-20 World Cup. Its best finish was as host in the inaugural championship in 2002 when it lost 1-0 to the U.S. in extra time in the final. Goalkeeper Erin McLeod and striker Christine Sinclair, both mainstays of the current Canadian national team, played on that team.
Canada finished runner-up to the Americans in CONCACAF qualifying for PNG, losing 1-0 in the final at San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
The Canadian starting 11 against the United States included five youngsters in Anyssa Ibrahim, Lysianne Proulx and Sarah Stratigakis (born in 1999) and Shana Flynn and Emma Regan (born in 2000).
Flynn and Regan are eligible for one more U-17 and two more U-20 World Cups after this.
“That’s part of our program, that’s part of our plan. If you’re good enough, you’re old enough,” said Worthington, echoing senior coach and program director John Herdman.
Canada, whose overall U-20 World Cup record is 12-10-1, did not advance past the pool stage in 2006, 2008 and 2012. It reached the quarter-finals in Thailand in 2004 and did not qualify in 2010.