GATINEAU, Que. - Canadian coach John Herdman left the Women's World Cup draw with a smile after being grouped with China, New Zealand and the Netherlands.
The Canadians are ranked eighth in the world while China is No. 14, the Netherlands No. 15 and New Zealand No. 19.
"Positive," was Herdman's assessment of Canada's newly minted Pool A. "It's not the easiest but certainly doable."
Canada will play China on June 6 and New Zealand on June 11, both in Edmonton, before taking on the Netherlands on June 15 in Montreal. Herdman pointed to the Dutch as his team's toughest opponent in the group.
"Canada is the highest-ranked of those teams," Herdman said. "Over the last three years, we've played all of those teams and beaten them. So I think it's a good group for us. It's one that we think yeah, we could finish top of.
"We're going to have to be at our best every game. That's a reality. There's no way we can drop into second gear against one of those teams. We're happy. I think the soccer gods listened to us last night. We avoided that group of death."
That would be Pool D with the top-ranked U.S., Asian runner-up Australia (No. 10), African champion Nigeria (widely seen as far better than No. 35 would suggest), and perennial European power Sweden (No. 5).
Consider that the U.S., Nigeria and Sweden won all their qualifying games. The Americans won all six matches without conceding a goal, Sweden did the same in winning 10 matches while Nigeria outscored its opposition 28-4 in seven matches.
"Wow, that's a tough group," said Herdman.
Norway's Even Pellerud, a former Canada coach, called Group D both terrible and great. Presumably terrible if you're in it and great if you're not.
Winnipeg, which hosts four of the six games in Group D, will benefit from the big guns clashing.
"We look at it in a positive way. If you want to win, you need to beat players and the best teams," said Sweden's Pia Sundhage, who used to coach the U.S. team. "It's a tough group. We try to embrace that, for sure."
American coach Jill Ellis shared that attitude.
"We've got a lot of depth on our roster and I'll think we'll be able to manage the group," she said.
Nigerian coach Edwin Okon was unfazed.
"Nigerians are not afraid of any group," he said.
The tournament, which has been increased in size to 24 teams from 16, runs June 6 to July 5 in Moncton, Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver.
The top two teams in each of the six groups plus the four best third-place finishers advance to the knockout round of 16.
With eight newcomers to the tournament — Cameroon, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Ivory Coast, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland and Thailand — there was always the possibility of some lopsided groups especially with a deep, talented European contingent.
But most of the contenders will be happy with the draw.
New Zealand coach Tony Readings pegged Canada's Pool A as the second toughest behind the U.S.-Australia-Nigeria-Sweden foursome.
"Also a strong group," Pellerud said. "Netherlands are very strong, New Zealand is getting so strong now. Very even. Canada has a good chance to go through but they have to play at their best."
"I think it's good group for Canada, I really do," said Ellis. "There are some good challenges in there for them but I think they're definitely teams that they can manage."
While Canadian captain Christine Sinclair attended the draw, her teammates watched it on TV in Vancouver.
"There were some big teams in the pool we were hoping to avoid," said defender Rhian Wilkinson. "It's a tough group we have, but it's an exciting one as well. . . . For me, I'm just really glad we know who we're playing, where we're playing and when we're playing. It just makes it so much more real now."
The 2011 draw was not so kind to Canada, then ranked sixth in the world. The Canadians, under coach Carolina Morace, went 0-3-0 while being outscored 7-1 in a pool with European champion Germany, African champion Nigeria and France.
The Canadian women placed last, in 16th place, at the 2011 competition.
Canada has got out of the first round just once, finishing fourth in 2003 after losing to Sweden in the semifinal and the U.S. in the third-place playoff.
Canada's career record at the tournament is 4-11-3 including an 0-9-0 mark against European opposition. It has been outscored 46-26.
Canada looks to win its group this time, to avoid big guns from other pools and to avoid additional travel.
"It will be a tough group," said Dutch coach Roger Reijners.
But New Zealand coach Tony Readings, no stranger to Herdman who led the Football Ferns at the 2007 and 2011 World Cups, called it "quite an evenly balanced group."
If Canada wins its group, it will play a third-place team, possibly one from Pool D, in the round of 16. If it finished runner-up it will meet the second-placed team from Pool C. A third-place finish in its pool, if good enough to advance, would mean a date with either the Group B or C winner.
Saturday's draw comes after 398 qualifying matches featuring 128 countries and 1,643 goals. New Zealand needed just three matches to book its ticket while the Netherlands had to play 14.
Colombia, England, France, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Spain and Switzerland also went unbeaten in qualifying.
As host, Canada escaped the grind of qualification.
Saturday's draw was hosted by former star wheelchair racer Chantal Petitclerc and Olympic champion speedskater Catriona Le May Doan. Draw assistants were hockey star Hayley Wickenheiser and former Canadian soccer internationals Kara Lang and Jason deVos.
The hour-long show started with First Nations hoop dancer Alex Wells, a three-time world champion at his speciality, featuring a local high school choir and a group of young dancers kicking up their heels with the tournament mascot, a Great White Owl named Shueme.
Four Mounties escorted the Women's World Cup trophy to the stage.
Canada's next action may be in January with Herdman looking to take his team to China for the Four Nations tournament.
World Cup Draw
Group A: Canada (8), China (14), New Zealand (19), the Netherlands (15)
Group B: Germany (2), Ivory Coast (64), Norway (9), Thailand (30)
Group C: Japan (3), Switzerland (17), Cameroon (51), Ecuador (49)
Group D: U.S. (1), Australia (10), Sweden (5), Nigeria (35)
Group E: Brazil (6), South Korea (16), Spain (16), Costa Rica (40)
Group F: France (4), England (7), Colombia (31), Mexico (25)
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The draw took place Saturday at the Canadian Museum of History.