The audible ripple of excitement in Montreal’s Windsor Hotel told its own story. Some tournament draws pass without much drama, but this one - determining the groups for the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup - was anything but unremarkable.
Group A: Canada, Ghana, Finland, Korea DPR
Group B: Germany, USA, China PR, Brazil
Group C: England, Korea Republic, Mexico, Nigeria
Group D: New Zealand, Paraguay, France, Costa Rica
And while every section had its sub-plots and share of intrigue, there was one in particular that caused gasps throughout the room. After all, Group B - with USA, China PR and Brazil - was already shaping up to be formidable when Germany dropped in to establish it beyond doubt as the tournament’s standout group.
How could it be otherwise, with China former finalists, Brazil established heavyweights and, more significantly, the Americans and Germans – champions and runners-up in 2012 – having won between them five of the six editions to date? Nonetheless, while every one of the Group B coaches would have been forgiven for cursing their luck, all reacted philosophically to having drawn such a demanding section.
Brazil's Adilson Santos, for example, said: “We know we will encounter teams with various strengths, but we will come prepared. Brazil will help make this an exciting World Cup.”
It may be a bit intimidating but we are up for the challenge. If you’re asking me how Ghana will do, I want us to win the cup.
As holders, USA will arguably start as favourites, but there seems no chance of coach Michelle French underestimating her Canada 2014 opponents. She said: “We have a great deal of respect for the teams in our group and fully expect each opponent to be excellent both technically and tactically, as well as extremely organised and competitive. By the time we set foot in Canada in August, we want to ensure the players are armed with any and all information that will help them feel prepared and confident.”
Much attention in Montreal had centred on how Canada would fare in the draw, and the consensus was that, while Ghana, Finland and Korea DPR will all test the hosts’ mettle, they should be confident of advancing. Indeed, coach Andrew Olivieri was already looking towards the last eight when he said: “If we get through this group, we will likely have to play against Germany or USA in the quarter-finals, and that’s going to be challenging. Both are great teams. But this Canada side can dream of doing whatever it wants.”
The hosts’ match against Ghana will double as the tournament's curtain-raiser, and the Africans’ coach, Bashir Hayford, is just as confident as Olivieri in his side’s potential. He said: “It may be a bit intimidating but we are up for the challenge. If you’re asking me how Ghana will do, I want us to win the cup.”
Finland coach, Marianne Miettinen, had expressed a pre-draw preference for the toughest task possible, and that desire was satisfied by the challenge of squaring up to the hosts. “It’s fantastic to be in the same group as Canada,” she said. “They are a team with powerful individuals who play with great heart and, given the support they will receive from the home fans, it will be a great experience. Overall, it’s an interesting group and we’re looking forward to some great football.”
Group C is arguably the toughest to predict, with Nigeria and Korea Republic - semi-finalists in 2012 and 2010 respectively - facing England and Mexico, both of whom impressed during the qualifiers. “All four are great teams,” said Korea Republic coach Jong Songchon. “But I have belief that our team will show great things at this World Cup, and that everyone will be surprised at what we are capable of.”
France, meanwhile, will begin their bid for a double of European and world titles with a section that involves a trip into the unknown against Costa Rica, Paraguay and New Zealand. “We don’t know anything about these teams, so we will look to find some video footage to get to know them,” admitted coach Gilles Eyquem. “We have friendly matches coming up against USA and Germany, and we will prepare well for this tournament and the challenges posed by this group.”
The appetite of everyone present at the Windsor Hotel has certainly been whetted by the draw, and all would have echoed the sentiments in Eyquem’s concluding remarks as he looked ahead to the August showpiece. “I’m sure,” he said, “that this tournament is going to be a really great showcase for women’s football.”