Since Canada was ranked A1 as host country, we were almost guaranteed a survivable group by FIFA fiat. That said, there’s survivable and then there’s winnable. There were a few very strong non-seeded teams who could have made Canada’s margin awfully thin. Get England or Sweden, South Korea, and basically any one of the dodgy African teams, and all of a sudden there are some big questions.
In the event, our draw was neither great nor horrifying.
Pot 2 — we got: New Zealand
Better than: Nigeria, Ivory Coast
Worse than: Cameroon
Twitter was a little more worried about this draw than I was. Pot 2 was a weird one for Canada. Costa Rica is one of the weakest teams in the tournament, but as a fellow CONCACAF country Canada could never get them. Ditto Mexico, who I think are a little underrated on the world stage. So it was New Zealand or one of the Africans.
The Africans are weird. They’ve historically done very well at the youth levels but have seldom brought it forward to the open ages; I’ll let my readers draw their own conclusions about that. By consensus, Nigeria is the best of the African countries and Ivory Coast not too far behind, with Cameroon being a team that (at the senior level) consistently handles Africans well and travels terribly. In this maelstrom of African uncertainty, New Zealand settles nicely somewhere in the middle.
Jason de Vos put it best. They pose some challenges, but we expect Canada to beat them. They’d get a bit less than draw odds with Norway, a bit more against Italy. New Zealand’s had a full international schedule over the past couple years and we can say with confidence where they belong: below Canada. Not at the bottom of the group, I don’t think, but if we fall to New Zealand than we frankly don’t deserve Kristian Jack.
I’d rather have New Zealand than the stronger African teams. The problem is that the Africans are obscure, hard to scout, hard to estimate, prone to busting out unpleasant surprises. Their games aren’t televised, the media coverage is unreliable, and you know John Herdman didn’t fly out to watch them play. New Zealand you can predict a bit better. Particularly for Herdman, who once coached them.
I can live with this easily.
Pot 3 — we got: China
Better than: South Korea
Worse than: Australia, Colombia, Ecuador, Thailand
Pot 3 is where we really could have made inroads, containing three of the tournament’s weakest teams. Instead we got the thoroughly decent Chinese. Darn.
China’s a good team: past their salad days but rising again with a young lineup (almost the whole team is younger than 27) and coming off tough games against some world elites. At the 2013 Yongchuan Four Nations, a near-annual tournament hosted by the Chinese, China fell 1-0 to Canada but beat South Korea, then in 2014 China took all nine points against New Zealand, Mexico, and North Korea. They’re on their way back up. I ranked them below South Korea but am by no means sure of that.
Once again, we come down to “Canada should beat them.” Their World Cup will be 2019, not 2015, and any achievements in Canada will be a bonus prior to the tournament they hope to take by storm. Yet they pose by far the most formidable risk to Canada, and out of a pot where we could have drawn some real cupcakes that hurts.
Pot 4 — we got: Netherlands
Better than: England, Sweden, Norway, Spain
Worse than: Switzerland
But the gods smiled on Canada in Pot 4.
Had we gotten either England or Sweden, we would have had a problem. Sweden is a historically good team and England has been looking more and more dangerous every week. Their presence automatically defines a Group of Death. Norway is solid enough to be frightening, coached by former Canadian boss Even Pellerud. Even Spain, while not belonging with the real competitors, has an upset in them.
Men’s fans will know the Netherlands as a top country, but their women’s program doesn’t amount to much. This is their first World Cup and have only recently been qualifying for Euros. While they’re still a young team, their top players such as Dyanne Bito and Anouk Hoogendijk are getting to the end of their ropes. They have one potentially terrifying youngster, 18-year-old striker Vivanne Miedema, but that single generational talent shouldn’t swing the group.
The Dutch got to Canada through a decent effort in an easy group then knockout wins over Scotland and Italy. Italy is the only country that should even be discussed on the world level and they’re a little worse year on year. The Netherlands’ exorbitant FIFA ranking flatters them; they don’t handle world-class teams well. They’re not bad, don’t get me wrong, but they’re another one of those teams where we can say “if Canada can’t beat them then we don’t deserve to get to the round of 16 anyway.”
So On Balance…
Canada should win this group.
But Stop Being a Homer. Really…
No. Canada should win this group. China is a threat but they’re not totally ready yet. If we give points away to either New Zealand or the Netherlands, we’ve done something very wrong.
No pressure, ladies!