Sports

Canada captain Christine Sinclair pulls out the win with dying-minutes penalty kick

By Derek Van Diest

EDMONTON - 

The game did not live up to the occasion.

 

They rarely do.

But as Canada headed towards a scoreless tie against China in the opening game of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Ukrainian referee Kateryna Monzul handed the hosts a lifeline.

A late penalty converted by captain Christine Sinclair, allowed Canada to pull out a 1-0 win over China in front of a record crowd of 53,058 at Commonwealth Stadium.

“It was a penalty, all credit to the referee,” said Canadian head coach John Herdman. “It was a brave decision. Some refs sort of overlook those ones, because it was a bump, it wasn’t blatantly obvious like a trip or something like that once you’re in on goal. I thought she (Monzul) was brave, very brave and she had a very good game. If that’s the standard of referees in this tournament, this is going to be a solid tournament.”

Chinese defender Rong Zhao was ruled to have fouled Canadian substitute Adriana Leon in the penalty area as the two battled for a ball.

It seemed a generous, hometown call and Sinclair capitalized.

“To begin with we’re here to play the game and we respect all the rules,” said China’s head coach Wei Hao, through an interpreter. “Whether it was a penalty or not, I didn’t see it clearly, I need to watch a video afterwards,"

Outside of the late penalty, Canada was uninspiring, but they will take the three points for the win and move on.

It might have helped had their opponent been interesting in engaging, but the Chinese were out to survive, forcing Canada to do most of the heavy lifting.

“Only five or six years ago, Canada would have been defending in a huge block against the Chinese, who were among the best soccer nations in the world,” Herdman said. “I’m really proud that Canada can come out and dominate a game in terms of the possession and sneak a win. That’s what we wanted, the three points that’s the most important part.”

The result gives Canada the leg up in Group A, with games against New Zealand and Netherlands left to play.

Considering the magnitude of the event, the Canadians could be excused for being tentative against a Chinese team set up to absorb pressure. The Canadians were limited to a handful of chances in the contest, the majority coming in the fist half.

Kadeisha Buchanan had the first good opportunity of the game, three minutes in, when a free kick from Sophie Schmidt fell to her at the far post.

Buchanan hammered a shot that was stopped by Chinese goalkeeper Fei Wang, who also got in the way of the rebound.

Sinclair came close five minutes later, sent in on a ball over the top by Melissa Tancredi. Sinclair got to it behind the Chinese defensive line but sailed her left-foot attempt just wide.

China’s best two opportunities came via giveaways from Canadian centre back Lauren Sesselmann. The first on a back pass that fell short, forcing goalkeeper Erin McLeod to dive out at the feet of Chinese striker Shanshan Wang to take the ball away.

The second came when Sesselmann missed Desire Scott with a square ball at the back, forcing the midfielder to take down Wang, who intercepted the pass. Scott was booked for the late tackle and Wang went on to rattle the ball off the crossbar then down onto the goalpost and out.

Canada countered China’s close call with one of their own, as Belanger splintered the crossbar after goalkeeper Wang punched a cross out to her.

“I was happy we got that win, it was an amazing atmosphere to go off and kick off the World Cup in front of 50,000-plus fans,” said Schmidt, who was voted player of the game. “The heat was something special (Saturday) was well, but I’m so proud of our team we pushed through and got the win. The first half was a little rough, but we found our feet, and in the second half, we never let up.”

In the second half, Canada tried to increase the pressure, but were still tentative coming forward in order to keep from giving up a goal against the run of play.

The Chinese were content to put most of their players behind the ball and only threatened when Canada got sloppy with possession.

Unable to work their way through a sea of bodies in the penalty area, Canadian coach tried to inject some energy into his squad by bringing on Kaylyn Kyle, Jesse Fleming and Leon.

As the game headed into extra time, Leon and Zhao got tangled battling for a ball in the penalty area, leading to the Canadian victory.

“China sat back and kind of dared us to come at them, and finally something went our way,” Schmidt said. “And Sincy, oh captain, my captain, came through and I’m glad she put that in.”

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/SUNdvandiest

 

 


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