The Olympic dream will ignite early for Canada’s Women’s Olympic soccer team. Even though the Olympic flame won’t officially arrive until the opening ceremonies on Friday, Team Canada will be looking to catch an early spark when they kickoff against reigning world champions Japan at the City of Coventry Stadium on Wednesday.
Coming in at seventh on the world-stage may make them an underdog in terms of rankings, but not in the hearts and minds of Canada’s Olympic teammates who view the opportunity for medal contention as a level playing field. Canada's 18-player roster features 13 players who have played for Vancouver Whitecaps FC, including goalkeeper Erin McLeod, defenders Candace Chapman, Carmelina Moscato, Emily Zurrer, Robyn Gayle, and Chelsea Stewart, midfielders Kaylyn Kyle, Sophie Schmidt and Desiree Scott, and strikers Jonelle Filigno, Christine Sinclair, Melissa Tancredi and Brittany Timko. Among that group are four players on this year's 2012 Whitecaps FC women's roster: Stewart, Kyle, Scott, and Timko.
Head coach John Herdman who led the squad to silver at the Olympic qualifying tournament in Vancouver last January will once again guide the women in their quest for Olympic gold. Rounding out the Canucks group stage competition are Japan (July 25), South Africa (July 28), and Sweden (July 31).
Canada (Ranked: 7th)
- Team Canada will be looking to build on their strong performance during qualifiers. Some early points would be a huge boost to fueling the team’s momentum to move beyond the group stage.
- Players to watch: Captain Christine Sinclair has proven to be the difference maker on countless occasions for the Reds and will likely be the torchbearer that kindles Canada’s offense.
Japan (Ranked: 3rd - play Canada July 25)
- The reigning world champions are the current favourite to lead Group E, so a win or a draw for Canada could turn the tides on who makes it through the group stage.
- Players to watch: FIFA Women's World Player of the Year in 2011 Homare Sawa, was the top-scorer at the 2011 FIFA World Cup as well as the Golden Ball winner and World Cup MVP.
South Africa (Ranked 61st - play Canada July 28)
- Newcomers South Africa will make their Olympic debut in London so are the unknown variable of the group. Regardless of being ranked the lowest of the four teams they shouldn't be underestimated.
- Players to watch: Being new to the Olympic stage many on the squad will be looking to make a name for themselves.
Sweden (Ranked: 4th - play Canada July 31)
- One of the most decorated teams in women’s soccer, Sweden poses some stiff competition for Canada. Along with finishing third in Germany, the Swedes also defeated Canada 2-1 in the group stage of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Fully expect Canada to be looking for revenge and come out swinging.
- Players to watch: Size and strength compose the Swedes squad with the experienced and commanding presence of Lotta Schelin and Caroline Seger at the core of their attack.
Of the three groups in the London 2012 group phase, the winners, runners-up and the two best third-ranked teams will advance to the quarter-finals. With Group E considered one of the toughest in the tournament Canada’s women will have to be at their best, so let’s help show our support for our Canadian Women’s Olympic Team, along with all of Canada’s Olympic hopefuls!