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Canada's Olympic champion women's soccer team will kick off its "Celebration Tour" next month with matches against New Zealand in Ottawa and Montreal.
The sixth-ranked Canadian women, who have not played since defeating Sweden via penalty shootout in the Aug. 6 Olympic final in Yokohama, Japan, will take on the 23rd-ranked Football Ferns on Oct. 23 at TD Place in Ottawa and Oct. 26 at Saputo Stadium in Montreal.
Canada Soccer says the two-game series, which falls during a FIFA international window, marks the start of the women's road to the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
Canada coach Bev Priestman says she expects more games across the country.
"I think this will kick off the Celebration Tour," she said in an interview Wednesday. "Our idea is an east and a west (component). How many (FIFA international) windows that is over, we're just working through the details. But this definitely won't be the only celebration."
The trick is scheduling games and finding the right opposition given World Cup qualifying and other scheduling demands elsewhere.
Priestman says she expects all 22 members of the Olympic team to take part in the October matches, with a few additional players. She is not anticipating any retirement announcements during the series.
"From speaking to the players I have in the last couple of days, I think that gold medal has spurred them on," she said. "I expect all of the players will be ready to play in this series, which is great."
While the games give the Canadian women a chance to reconnect with home fans, there is also business to take care of on the field, says Priestman.
"I think we've got to get used to that gold-medal expectation a little bit. We've probably been undervalued in terms of when you come up against Canada," she said. "I've always felt that we need to be feared more.
"And now you've got this gold medal, Olympic champions label, we certainly won't want to put out a bad showing in front of our loyal home fans who I know all tuned in … in the early hours of the morning through that (Olympic) tournament. We'll be ready to put our best showing out for the fans. It's been so long."
The Canadian women have not played at home since May 18, 2019, when they blanked Mexico 3-0 at BMO Field in Toronto in a warmup match ahead of the 2019 World Cup in France. The 29 matches since then have all been played away from home.
Priestman says the October home matches will further help the Olympic triumph sink in.
"It will actually help us, in terms of making it feel real, because of the circumstances that we won in. You come home, you didn't have fans there. I think this will actually make it feel really special and real, which I can't wait for."
The Canadian women will play their first official matches next July at the eight-country CONCACAF W Championship, which will qualify four teams for the 2023 World Cup with two more advancing to an intercontinental playoff. The CONCACAF W tournament also serves as an Olympic qualifier with the winner booking its ticket to the 2024 Paris Games. The runner-up and third-place finisher will meet in a play-in series in September with the winner also qualifying for Paris.
Canada is 8-1-4 all-time against New Zealand, with the lone loss coming in their first meeting in December 1987. The two teams met at the last two World Cups with a scoreless draw in 2015 in Edmonton and Canada winning 2-0 in Grenoble, France in 2019.
The two counties have ties off the football field. Priestman and John Herdman, Canada men's coach, both coached in New Zealand before coming to Canada.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 29, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press