The historic draw was held at FIFA house in Zurich on May 13th and when it was over the hosts were pitted against Japan, Denmark and Nigeria in Group A. They will play their games in Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium. Group B (Germany, France, Mexico and Brazil) will play at Vancouver's Swangard stadium while Group C games will be held at Victoria's Centennial Stadium. This group is comprised of England, the United States, Chinese Taipei and Australia.
"This a huge event for Canada," says Ian Bridge, the Canadian head coach, "To host the first under 19 world championships is an honour for the country. It's an opportunity for our program to showcase itself not just for us but also for young female soccer players in Canada."
"I think there are going to be so many young players coming out and watching these games. This is the only world championships, on the female side, outside of the Olympics and World Cup so this is one of the top tournaments in the world. The players here will be the best of their age group in the world and I think it will turn on so many players more than they are now."
Bridge believes his team has a good chance of reaching the semi-finals after which anything is possible. And, as we have seen with South Korea's performance in the men's world cup, the success of a host country can galvanise additional support.
"Our team's goal is to be playing on September 1st," Bridge declares confidently, "That means we must make the final four. In a tournament such as this, with only twelve teams, there are no weak teams and anyone can beat anyone on a one game basis. Our team will be well prepared for this tournament and playing at home gives us certain advantages that may give us an important edge when we need it most."
Asked which teams stand between Canada and the championship Bridge is quick to point to the United States who won the CONCACAF group with a lopsided 14-1victory over Costa Rica to claim the final place in the tournament. It is not surprising that he would mention them. Canada was beaten 11-1 by the Americans in the buildup to the tournament and the wounds are still raw.
The Canadian coach is also impressed with Germany who beat France 3-1 to win the UEFA championship on May 12th. Bridge believes the development of women's soccer in Canada is on par with Denmark and Japan but he admits concern about Nigeria. The African champions beat their closest rivals, South Africa, 6-0 and 3-2 to book their place in the world championships. Their captain, striker Ifeanyi Chiejine may prove to be one of the stars of the tournament.
Playing in front of a supportive crowd should do wonders for the Canadians. But despite what Bridge and his players have been saying publicly there will also be a lot of pressure on the side to perform. Time will tell if this pressure does lift the players to an unprecedented skill level. Among the ladies who hail from Edmonton is central defender Sasha Andrews who plays for Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. She comes by her enormous talent honestly as her father was an international goalkeeper for his native Ghana.
"I was really excited because obviously I am going to know lots of people here," says Andrews, recalling the moment she heard Edmonton would host the tournament, "And people have always wanted to see national team soccer here."
It is a curious but true that Canadian national teams playing in Toronto or Montreal can expect to be treated as if they were the visitors. Both of these cities have significant ethnic communities who tend to hold strong ties to their countries of origin at the expense of their new homeland.
Bridge, a former Canadian international, remembers being jeered during a game between Canada and Italy inside Toronto's Varsity Stadium. The team might as well have been playing in Rome. It was the same for the Canadian world cup team playing a vital match against Mexico in CONCACAF action in 1993. The stadium was filled with the green and red of Mexico as busloads of Mexican supporters had arrived from across the United States to cheer on their squad.
As part of the team's preparation the Canadian Soccer Association lined up a schedule of matches at venues right across Canada where fans could catch a glimpse of the young talent. Canada won a three match series against Italy in June and then seven members of the Under 19 team joined Bridge at the Canadian women's world cup team training camp in Toronto. This was followed by a three game series against Mexico in several Eastern Canadian venues. All told these meticulously laid out plans could result in success for Canada.