By Steve Keating
(Reuters) - Tremendous support and a familiarity with playing on artificial turf give Canada an edge at the Women's World Cup but the hosts will need to find a way to cope with sky-high expectations that come with staging the tournament.
Having now qualified for six consecutive World Cups and taken bronze at the 2012 London Olympics there is plenty of optimism in Canada that the hosts have a legitimate shot at reaching the July 5 final in Vancouver.
But there is also caution in the air after the Canadians went into the 2011 World Cup in Germany as contenders but did not make it out of the group stage after failing to win a game.
"We talked about how are we going to cope with the national anthem, how are we going to cope with the emotion of a packed house, how are we going to manage the first mistake that we make," said Canadian coach John Herdman. "Just continue with the plan, we are ticking boxes every single game.
"The tournament is never being looked at as too big, it is just next task, next day, next box."
Canada, who open the tournament on Saturday against China in Edmonton, routinely play in front of large crowds at home and will be assured of a packed house in every game.
The eighth-ranked hosts will also feel comfortable on the artificial turf having played more than any other country on the surface that created a storm of controversy.
A group of elite women's players sued FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association last year, arguing that artificial surfaces being used in the six Canadian host cities was discriminatory as every men's World Cup has been on real grass.
With FIFA digging and a long legal battle looming the players dropped the lawsuit in January to put the focus back on the actual tournament.
The Canadian team will be a blend of youth and experience with 15 players back from the 2012 Olympic squad.
Canada will be led by talismanic striker Christine Sinclair, who made her national team debut when she was 16 and has been a cornerstone of the program ever since participating in three World Cups and two Olympics.
Big, strong and a lethal finisher, Sinclair who has scored 153 times in 222 international appearances.
Joining Canada in Group A are New Zealand and the Netherlands.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Frank Pingue)