Canadian soccer player Christine Sinclair smiles during a media availability in Vancouver, B.C. on Tuesday, February 11, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Canadian soccer player Christine Sinclair smiles during a media availability in Vancouver, B.C. on Tuesday, February 11, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Canadian women to open Olympic soccer tournament against host Japan

Canadian women ranked eighth

Canada will open the Tokyo Olympic women’s soccer tournament against host Japan on July 21 at the Sapporo Dome.

The eighth-ranked Canadian women, bronze medallists at the last two Olympics, were drawn in Group E with No. 11 Japan, Britain (FIFA ranks England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland separately) and No. 37 Chile in Wednesday’s draw.

The Canada-Japan game comes two days before the July 23 official start of the Tokyo Olympics. Canada will then face Chile on July 24 at the Sapporo Dome and Britain on July 27 at Kashima Stadium.

The women’s final will take place Aug. 6 at Tokyo’s new Olympic Stadium, which will also host the opening and closing ceremonies.

The draw, originally set for Japan, was held at FIFA headquarters in Zurich.

Group F features the Netherlands (No. 3), Brazil (No. 7) China (No. 14), and Zambia (No. 104) while a tough Group G consists of the U.S. (No. 1), Sweden (No. 5), Australia (No. 9), New Zealand (No. 22).

There will be a new women’s champion this year with Germany failing to qualify.

Canada coach Bev Priestman had a pretty good handle on what awaited her side at the draw. FIFA’s draw principle of avoiding having teams from the same confederation in the opening round meant the Canadians were going to end up with Japan, either Britain or Sweden and one of Chile, New Zealand or Zambia.

Canada is 4-7-3 all-time against the Japanese, losing 4-0 last time out in October 2019. The Canadian women have played Britain just once, winning 2-0 in the quarterfinals of the 2012 Games in London.

Canada lost 1-0 in its only previous meeting with Chile, in 2013. The Chilean women are making their Olympic debut, qualifying by defeating Cameroon in a South America-Africa playoff earlier this month.

The winner of Canada’s opening group will meet one of the two third-place teams that advances in the quarterfinals. The Group E runner-up will play the No. 2 team in Group F.

Should Canada win its pool and quarterfinal, the powerful Americans could await in the semifinals.

Britain qualified via England’s performance at the 2019 Women’s World Cup — the three best-placed European teams earned Olympic berths.

Priestman, a native of England, used to be an assistant coach with England. The British coaching setup includes Rhian Wilkinson, a former Canadian international and assistant coach.

Priestman knows Britain’s talent and has prepared for the Japanese recently. The Asian side was slated to take part in February’s SheBelieves Cup before pulling out due to pandemic-related travel issues.

And Canada has experience facing the host country from the 2016 Games, beating Brazil 2-1 in the bronze-medal match.

Canada (ranked 10th at the time) was drawn in a group with Germany (No. 2), Australia (No. 5) and Zimbabwe (No. 95) at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

The Canadian women upset Germany to top the group with three wins. They defeated France 1-0 in the quarterfinals before falling 2-0 to eventual champion Germany in the semifinals. Canada then downed Brazil for the bronze.

Priestman was part of John Herdman’s coaching staff in Rio. Herdman is now running the Canadian men’s team.

The Olympic soccer tournament runs July 21 to Aug. 7 in Tokyo, Sapporo, Miyagi, Kashima, Saitama and Yokohama.

Also Wednesday, the 16 men’s sides in Tokyo were drawn into four groups of four. Rio champion Brazil and runner-up Germany were drawn in the same group.

Unlike the women’s competition, which features senior sides, the Olympic men’s tournament features under-23 players. Men’s teams are allowed three overage players at the Games.

Olympic Soccer Draw (With world rankings)

Women

Group E: Japan (11), Canada (8), Britain, Chile (37).

Group F: China (14), Brazil (7), Zambia (104), the Netherlands (3).

Group G: Sweden (5), U.S. (1), Australia (9), New Zealand (22).

Men

Group A: Japan, South Africa, Mexico, France.

Group B: New Zealand, South Korea, Honduras, Romania.

Group C: Egypt, Spain, Argentina, Australia.

Group D: Brazil, Germany, Ivory Coast, Saudi Arabia.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 21, 2021.

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