SPORTS

Canada looks to make soccer mark as women's elite come to contest World Cup

12/23/2014 05:14 EST | Updated 02/22/2015 05:59 EST
TORONTO - The Women's World Cup comes to Canada in the summer of 2015 as the FIFA showcase expands to 24 teams for the first time. A look at the tournament, which will take place in Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Montreal and Moncton from June 6 to July 5:

Getting There: Some 128 nations, playing 398 qualification matches from April 2013 to December 2014, battled it out to fill the 23 slots alongside host Canada. There were 1,643 goals scored in qualifying (an average of 4.13 per game) with games in 79 countries and 179 cities. Average attendance was 2,378 at the games where a count was kept.

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World Cup Debuts: Cameroon, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Ivory Coast, Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand.

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Stars are Born: Teenager Vivianne Miedema led the Dutch charge to Canada. The 18-year-old forward, who plays for Bayern Munich's women's team, scored 16 goals in qualifying including all three Dutch scores in a two-game playoff win over Italy ... Attacking midfielder Yoreli Rincon, 21, leads the Colombia attack and was named player of the tournament at the Copa America ... Ecuador coach Vanessa Arauz, just 25, guided her team to Canada via a playoff win over Trinidad and Tobago ... Mexican goalie Cecilia Santiago, 20, featured in a record four FIFA U-20 championships ... Nigerian forward Desire Oparanozie, 21, was the leading scorer at the African Women’s Championship ... Norwegian winger Caroline Hansen, 19, led her country with eight goals in nine qualifying matches.

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Home Team: Canada is playing in its sixth straight World Cup, missing out only on the inaugural tournament in 1991. But the Canadians have advanced out of the group stage just once, in 2003 when they finished fourth after losing to Sweden in the semifinals and the U.S. in the match for third place. Canada's record at the World Cup is 4-11-3. Canada finished last, in 16th place, at the 2011 tournament.

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The Controversy: Turf, turf, turf. Lawyers representing a rebel faction of elite players have done a marvellous job keeping their human rights challenge to the use of artificial turf in the headlines. The women contend that they are being discriminated against because they are playing their World Cup on artificial turf while the men's showcase tournament is played on natural grass. Amazingly FIFA president Sepp Blatter has managed to stay out of the turf morass. Secretary-general Jerome Valcke has played the heavy.

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Facts: New Zealand has not lost a World Cup qualifier since a 2003 defeat to Australia, which now competes in the Asian Football Confederation. The Football Ferns have won 11 straight in qualifying, outscoring their opponents 101-1. ... Swiss goalies Gaelle Thalmann and Stenia Michel combined for nine shutouts in 10 qualifying matches.

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Favourites: The U.S., Germany, Japan, Brazil and France are seeded for a reason, qualifying for the Canadian tournament with just one loss (Brazil lost 2-0 to Argentina) between them. The Americans, France and Germany won all their qualifying matches while Japan's lone blemish was a tie.

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