VANCOUVER - Anxiety filled the room as members of the Canadian women's soccer team gathered to watch the World Cup draw on TV.
All that unease was washed away as soon as they were matched against a familiar opponent.
Players clapped and cheered Saturday when Canada was drawn into a group that includes New Zealand, a country that head coach John Herdman led to the last two World Cups before assuming his current post.
"It just adds that little bit of bite to the game," said midfielder Sophie Schmidt. "There's so much more pressure associated with it. I think for John it will be that extra challenge. It drives us to want to perform because it means so much to him.
"It's nice to have that added little bonus backstory."
The players burst into laughter when cameras immediately panned to Herdman, who was in attendance for the draw in Gatineau, Que.
"I think it's exiting for everyone, not only John," said midfielder Kaylyn Kyle. "We're just really looking forward to it."
Canada will meet New Zealand on June 11 in Edmonton after opening the tournament versus China in the Alberta capital five days earlier. Canada's other group game is against the Netherlands on June 15 in Montreal.
Herdman said his only regret was that Canada and New Zealand won't meet in the first game of the tournament.
"There's only two groups of women I've coached in my career and it's that New Zealand team and that Canadian team," said the Englishman. "New Zealand, I know those players, I know that team, I've watched them evolve.
"Their team's peaking in their average age. They're actually at their peak now, so if any tournament they're going to be successful it will be this one — but not at our expense."
Herdman has been in charge of Canada since 2011 following a miserable performance at the World Cup, and led the team to a memorable bronze-medal finish at the London Olympics just a year later.
New Zealand head coach Tony Readings knows Herdman from their time together with that country's national program and said they shared a chuckle about the draw.
"We spoke about it before," said Readings, who was also in Gatineau. "We said it was meant to be that we would play against each other in the group. He said, 'I told you so.' We're looking forward to it. It will be a great game.
"I know him well. I know some of his tactics. I'm sure I don't know them all, but he doesn't know all of ours."
Canada is currently ranked eighth in the world, followed by China (No. 14), the Netherlands (No. 15) and New Zealand (No. 19).
While there was a lot of talk about the game against Herdman's old team, Canadian defender Rhian Wilkinson said the focus has to be on all three matches in Group A.
"I think it will be a bit of an emotional game for (Herdman)," she said. "For us it's just the second team we'll be playing."
Added Kyle: "There will be just as much prep for the New Zealand game as there will be for China and the Netherlands."
For the Canadian players, Saturday's draw came as somewhat of a relief, as well as another big step towards a tournament that is now only six months away.
"I'm just excited to have it done with. It's exciting to know who we have now," said Wilkinson. "We've talked about Canada 2015. We've talked about this tournament coming and now all of a sudden it's right around the corner and this draw is really what cements it.
"It's game on."
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