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23.04.2007 Football News

Canada draws Australia Norway, Ghana in first round

By LORI EWING The Canadian Press

As the coach responsible for putting Norway on the women's soccer map, there are few teams in the world outside of his own Canadian squad that Even Pellerud knows better than the Norwegians.

He also knows how good they are.

Canada faces No. 3-ranked Norway, Pellerud's old team, along with Australia and Ghana in the opening round of the 2007 FIFA women's World Cup. Those countries make up Group C as picked in Sunday's draw held in Wuhan, one of the five Chinese host cities for the 16-team tournament, Sept. 10-30.

"Norway is for sure the group's favourite to win, I've never beaten them," Pellerud said in a phone interview from Vancouver. "That said, I think they are not unbeatable."

The Norwegians should prove to be Canada's stiffest competition. While the 10th-ranked Canadians haven't faced Norway in nearly two years — a 3-0 loss on May 31, 2005 — Canada's best result against Norway in eight games is a 1-1 draw.

The Norwegian-born Pellerud coached that team for seven-and-a-half years, leading Norway to silver at the 1991 World Cup then gold four years later. His team also won bronze at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. He was offered an eight-year contract to coach Norway two years ago, but turned it down.

"That's my old team, I kind of created that program," said Pellerud, who got up at 4 a.m. to watch the FIFA draw from China on the Internet. "It's going to be an interesting game."

Australia is ranked 14th while Ghana is 48th.

Canada has faced Australia 13 times in the past 20 years, their most recent result a 2-0 Canadian win in a friendly in 2003.

"Australia is a team we know pretty well, we've played them and we saw them play lately at the Peace Cup in October," said Pellerud. "Australia is very similar to us, same type of team, same approach to sports, very similar style, for sure a team that over the last five years has steadily improved."

The Canadians have only played Ghana once, a 1-1 draw in 2003. Pellerud hasn't seen Ghana play since then and doesn't want any surprises from the country whose unheralded men's side made it as far as the round of 16 at the 2006 World Cup.

"It's going to be a priority to scout them," said Pellerud. "The thing with African countries is they are amazing athletes and they are very skilful and very talented. There will be some travel to see them play, there's no doubt about that."

Teams must finish in the top two in their groups to advance.

Group A has No. 2-ranked Germany, Japan, England and Argentina. Group B would be considered "the group of death" with the No. 1-ranked U.S., Nigeria, North Korea and Sweden.

"There is one really, really, really strong group, that's just a terrible group," Pellerud said of Group B. "I think most of the other teams are pleased because those three other groups are even."

Group D has host China, New Zealand, Brazil and Denmark.

The Canadians, who finished a best-ever fourth at the 2003 World Cup, will open the tournament Sept. 12 against Norway, then play Ghana on Sept. 15 — both in Hangzhou — then Australia on Sept. 19 in Chengdu.

The Canadians will get a sneak preview of the World Cup stadium in a couple of weeks when they play China's national team in Hangzhou on May 3 and 6.

"It's great timing, because they're going to play in the same stadium they're going to play in in September," said Pellerud. "That's another great coincidence this time."

The top-ranked Americans, one of the four seeded teams this year, weren't at all pleased with their draw. The two-time World Cup champions will face the identical teams they played in 2003, when they were knocked out in the semifinals by Germany, which went on to claim the World Cup title.

"We landed in the most difficult group again," American coach Greg Ryan said. "We had the most difficult group in 2003, and now the most difficult in 2007. It's hard to believe we drew exactly the same teams."