The countdown to the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada begins in earnest on Saturday when Ottawa plays host to the final draw. Exactly six months before the tournament gets underway at the Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, an unprecedented field of 24 teams will be allocated into six groups of four.
While we do know that Canada will be the first team in Group A and take part in the opening match, their opponents and the rest of the lineup is to be decided. The hosts are one of six seeds that will be drawn into each of the groups. Included among the seeds are the team ranked top of the FIFA rankings and the country many regard as the favorites to lift the trophy, the United States. The 2012 Olympic gold medalists will be striving to go one better than in 2011, when they agonizingly lost a penalty shootout in the final to Japan. The holders join the U.S. in the seeded pot, alongside the winners in 2003 and 2007, Germany, as well as Brazil and France. From there, the rest of the teams are grouped according to their confederation.
Pot 1: Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, United States
Pot 2: Cameroon, Costa Rica, Ivory Coast, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria
Pot 3: Australia, China, Colombia, Ecuador, South Korea, Thailand
Pot 4: England, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland
The field has been expanded from 16 in Germany four years ago, meaning there is the possibility for some one-sided matchups in the group phase. With the top two teams, as well as the four best third-placed teams progressing to the Round of 16, there should also be a degree of comfort for the top countries. Yet all of the contenders will be desperate to top their group and avoid having to play one of the group winners in the first knockout round. With that in mind, fifth-ranked Sweden, coached by former U.S. team coach Pia Sundhage, will certainly be the team everyone wants to avoid from Pot 4. Australia, quarterfinalists in 2011, look the toughest proposition from Pot 2. Eight countries will be making their first appearance in a Women’s World Cup -- Cameroon, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Ivory Coast, Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland and Thailand.
While the biggest World Cup ever is set to provide a powerful statement for the growth of women’s soccer, the decision to use artificial turf for all six venues continues to shroud the tournament in controversy. A host of leading players, like U.S. all-time leading scorer Abby Wambach and five-time World Player of the Year Marta of Brazil, have filed a lawsuit against the Canadian Soccer Association and FIFA, claiming that forcing them to play on artificial turf rather than grass is gender discrimination. Their argument is that men would never be asked to play a World Cup on an artificial surface, which it’s alleged presents a higher risk of injury.
Draw start time: Noon EST
TV channel: Fox Sports 1