Thursday, January 19, 2012

CONCACAF 2012 Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament Starts Today

I mentioned it at the conclusion of the FIFA Women's World Cup tournament last year that Canada would host the CONCAFAF Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament that will decide which two teams from our region punch their tickets to London.

The fun starts at the newly renovated BC Place Stadium in Vancouver later today as eight teams begin play to determine who will be in the championship match on January 29 and ultimately in the Olympic Games Women's Tournament.

The eight competing teams in Vancouver will be placed in two groups and the draw shook out like this:

Group A:  Canada, Haiti, Cuba, Costa Rica
Group B:  Guatemala, Dominican Republic, USA, Mexico

Top two teams in Group play make it to the semifinal round on January 27 with the semifinal survivors qualifying for London and playing for the CONCAFAF tournament title.

The teams getting the two available CONCAFAF berths will join host nation and FIFA number 8 ranked Great Britain, FIFA World Cup champion and number 3 ranked Japan, FIFA number 9 ranked North Korea, FIFA number 4 ranked Brazil, Colombia, FIFA number 6 ranked France, FIFA number 5 ranked Sweden, South Africa, Cameroon (who knocked off Nigeria's Super Phobes) and one more nation from Oceania (possibly New Zealand) to round out the 12 team Olympic tournament.field

The three teams to watch in this tournament are the homestanding Canadians, Mexico and the two time defending Olympic champion USA who has also won the last two CONCAFAF Olympic qualifying tournaments and are working on an Olympic threepeat.. 

The FIFA number one ranked USA in the 2004 final knocked off Mexico 3-2 and in the 2008 final beat Canada 6-5 on penalty kicks after the match concluded in a 1-1 draw.

In November 2010 CONCAFAF champ Canada beat Mexico for the title in qualifying for the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup after Mexico upset the USA 2-1 in the semis to claim the other World Cup auto qualifying berths   Team USA was forced to win the third place game against Costa Rica and then beat Italy in a two leg playoff just to qualify for the 2011 World Cup..

Team USA coach Pia Sundhage is bringing the same squad that finished as the World Cup runners up in Germany minus two players since you're only allowed 20 on the roster  The one they added however is Vancouver born UCLA standout Sydney Leroux. 

FIFA number 21 ranked Mexico wants to prove that the November 2010 loss they saddled the USA with in Cancun wasn't a fluke and they'll get their chance on January 24.  Assuming everything shakes out as expected it'll be a Group B finale that will probably determine who wins the group and who faces the runner up team from Group A.    

The FIFA seventh ranked Canadians have a new coach after their disappointing showing in Germany but are still just as determined to put a dent in the US soccer domination of them.

They also wish to continue the positive direction of their program in advance of their nation hosting the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup.  

The USA's last loss to Canada was ten years ago and in compiling a 41-3-4 record against our northern neighbors have never lost a match on Canadian soil.

While pundits are expecting a Canada-USA final on January 29, there are six other national teams in Vancouver who have Olympic dreams as well and would like nothing better than to take down one of the favorites and punch their own tickets to London. 

The Canadians open up Group A play today with Haiti with Cuba taking on  Costa Rica in the other contest.  The USA opens Group B play tomorrow with the Dominican Republic and Mexico takes on Guatemala.

If the favorites slip up by taking an underdog team for granted or one of the underdog teams gets hot at the right time, anything can happen. 

But one thing is certain.   There will only be two teams representing CONCAFAF at the London Olympics when this qualifying tournament is concluded.  The rest will be going home bitterly disappointed and in a few months watching the Olympic women's football tournament on television and waiting to try again to qualify when the Games come to Rio in 2016.

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