Within minutes of learning her team’s path at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Canada coach Bev Priestman was looking deep into the draw.
The seventh-ranked Canadians avoided some of the tournament heavyweights in being drawn with co-host Australia, Ireland and Nigeria in Group B.
Australia, at No. 13, was the second-lowest-ranked team the Olympic champion Canadians could have faced out of Pot 1. Only co-host New Zealand, at No. 22, had a lower ranking in the pot containing the co-hosts and top seeds.
And Priestman’s team is familiar with Australia and No. 45 Nigeria, having played both twice this year. Ireland, ranked 24th, will be making its World Cup debut.
“I’m excited,” Priestman, speaking from Auckland, said of Saturday’s draw. “It could be worse, it could be better.
The top two in each pool will advance to the round of 16 with the Group B winner facing the runner-up in Group D and the Group B runner-up taking on the Group D winner.
That means a possible challenging date with No. 4 England, No. 15 China or No. 18 Denmark.
The expanded 32-country field made for a more benign landing zone for most top teams. But Group D is one of the tougher neighbourhoods and Olympic champion Canada will have to get through it to reach the quarter-finals.
Priestman said the goal will be to win the group, so as to avoid a likely meeting with in-form England, which defeated the top-ranked Americans last month.
Canada defeated Australia twice in September, 1-0 and 2-1 in Brisbane and Sydney respectively, and is 6-2-2 against the Matildas this century. Having just played Down Under, it also knows what to expect.
The Canadians won their only meeting with Ireland, 2-1 in 2014.
But the draw did not do Canada any favours in No. 45 Nigeria, the highest-ranked team in Pot 4. The Super Falcons have never missed a World Cup and made the quarter-finals in 1999.
Canada is 2-1-2 all-time against Nigeria, recording a 2-0 win and 2-2 tie when they met in a pair of matches in April in British Columbia.
Two of their earlier matchups came in past World Cups. The two teams tied 3-3 at the 1995 tournament and Canada lost 1-0 to Nigeria in a disastrous showing at the 2011 competition where it finished last.
The opening matches next year will see New Zealand play Norway in Auckland and Australia face Ireland in Sydney, both on July 20 (local time).
The Canadians will play their opening-round games in Australia, starting with Nigeria on July 21 in Melbourne. Canada will then face Ireland on July 26 in Perth before meeting Australia on July 31 back in Melbourne.
The draw means Canada will play all of its matches in Australia, including the knockout rounds.
No. 3 Germany or No. 5 France could await Canada in the quarter-finals.