Saturday 06 December 2014, 21:32

Canada 2015 coaches deliver draw verdict

No sooner had fate decided the make-up of the six FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™ groups at the Final Draw on Saturday, than the coaches of the qualified teams – all present at the ceremony – began to turn their thoughts to the big event itself. Some have experienced women’s football biggest spectacle on a number of occasions, while others will soon be discovering it for the first time. Many of them spoke to in Ottawa, revealing their hopes, thoughts, ambitions and fears.

Sweden coach Pia Sundhage may have two World Cup ventures as a player and one as a coach to her name, but she still felt the same emotions upon seeing the names of upcoming opponents unfurled and displayed on a big screen.

“You never really get used to a draw – it’s such an important event,” she said with a smile, despite being handed a set of fixtures that may give her sleepless nights. Not only did the Swedes inherit the traditional ‘group of death’ by drawing United States, Australia and Nigeria, but they are now on a crash course with an American side that she steered to the final of Germany 2011.

“The match will obviously be quite special for me; I’ve got mixed emotions about it,” she admitted. “It’s good to play against the best teams in the group stage, though. We’re looking at it positively.”

Familiar territory “Pia is a very good friend of mine, and we joked about possibly ending up in the same group this morning,” explained Jill Ellis, the woman charged with leading the Stars and Stripes to glory in Canada. “They’re traditionally a great team, obviously, and it’ll be a difficult game. But I also think that if we perform at our best, it doesn’t matter who we’re playing. The most important thing is how we play.”

Silvia Neid, who led Germany to the world title in 2007, will also be renewing acquaintances with old foes, namely Norway, the team that her charges defeated in the final of the 2013 UEFA Women’s Championship. “They’re a strong side and we’re very familiar with them, but I still think we’re the favourites to win the group,” she said with confidence.

“Côte d’Ivoire and Thailand are the new kids on the block, but Asian teams are known for their technical abilities, while African sides also need to be taken seriously. Germany and Norway are definitely favourites, however.”

Her opposite number, Even Pellerud, also touched on the clash with Germany, which will offer his Norwegian players an opportunity for revenge. “It is about time that we beat them,” he noted.

His overall reaction was one of joy, however, having attended a World Cup Final Draw as Norway coach for the first time since his initial spell in charge back in the early 1990s. “This is my sixth World Cup and sixth draw ceremony, but I still feel like a little kid again,” the former Valerenga midfielder said. “I feel the same excitement, tension and nervous energy.”

What of the debutants? Clementine Toure, who recently guided Côte d’Ivoire to a maiden World Cup berth, could not hide her enthusiasm at the thought of taking on Germany in Group B. “Coming up against the Germans in our first-ever World Cup match is a huge challenge,” she said. “But it’s only through testing yourself against big teams that you become a big team. We’re still learning, and now we get to play one of the elite sides.”

Lessons to learn Similarly, newcomers Ecuador face a tough test in Group C, where they will go head-to-head with defending champions Japan. “We’re about to experience an amazing adventure, being at the World Cup for the first time, and we’ve ended up with a tremendous group,” remarked Vanessa Arauz, coach of the last country to book a ticket to Canada 2015, who gave short shrift to the idea that the Ecuadorians had been unlucky.

“Luck is a fleeting thing; it’s not something that can be explained. What’s important is knowing that everyone will be there to fight hard and to learn from others – that’s what a World Cup is all about. Four years ago, I was watching on television while studying to become a coach. Now, I’m still only 25, and I’m already at my first World Cup!” she added.

Switzerland is another nation that will be making its World Cup debut in Canada, although their coach, Martina Voss-Tecklenburg, has previously participated in the tournament at the helm of Germany on three occasions. This did not prevent her from hoping for a favourable draw, crossing her fingers and holding onto a good-luck charm she had received as a gift while touring the Canadian Museum of History. She had hoped for Brazil, but had to make do with Japan, Cameroon and Ecuador.

“My charm worked, even if we didn’t get Brazil,” she said with a broad smile. “It’s a win-win situation for us to be playing the world champions in our opening match. It’s been a pleasant day, and a pleasant draw.”

Someone else who enjoyed the day immensely was John Herdman, coach of Canada and former coach of New Zealand, whose women’s team he oversaw between 2006 and 2011. The Canadians were handed a manageable section in the form of the Netherlands, China and the New Zealanders, who Herdman had expressed a desire to play during a press conference on Friday evening.

“When you look at the ‘group of death’ with USA, Sweden and Nigeria, you have to feel happy to have avoided a similar fate,” he said in a relieved tone. “And I’ve got the chance to play against my former team, which is what I was hoping for. They represent a lot to me, so to have the opportunity to share a moment with them in Canada is really great. We’re unbeaten against our three opponents; it’s exciting to think that when we play these games our destiny will be in our own hands.”