“It’s a relief,” Christine Sinclair said after leading her team to a 3-1 victory over Costa Rica on Friday night.
That win stamped Canada’s passport for Olympic football this summer in Rio de Janeiro, a tournament where four years ago Canada Soccer’s women’s team stole national hearts by winning a bronze medal at London 2012.
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“When it comes down to winner takes all, it’s nerve-racking. It’s never easy with an Olympic qualification on the line.”
Such were the stakes between Canada and the Central American side in the regional (CONCACAF) tournament semifinal where a win for either team would’ve taken them to Brazil for the biggest women’s football tournament this year.
With the international season on the line, Sinclair came through the way Canadian soccer fans have come to expect over the years. She pounced on a free ball in the box for the opening goal at the 17th minute, then early in the second half, rocketed a left-footer that required a couple of touches very few people in the game possess.
“It’s kind of a blur, I haven’t seen it yet,” Sinclair said of the goal that put Canada up 2-0. She spoke with Olympic.ca over the phone from the dressing room in Houston, Texas where Canada has been playing all of its matches.
“The ball bounced for me inside the box and I don’t know what happened from there. I’ll have to look at it.”
What happened was Sinclair expertly flicked an approaching ball away from a defender with her right foot while standing in the box, facing goal. With the ball flying overhead, she adjusted by spinning her body to meet the falling object with her left foot. Finally, Sinclair connected on a volley with a vicious strike to perfectly place the ball at the underside of the crossbar, before it fell behind the Costa Rica keeper and inside the goal as onlookers struggled to tweet the exact superlative that would describe such a moment.
Earlier this week Sinclair reached number two all time in women’s international scoring with her other goal in Houston to date during a 6-0 victory over Trinidad and Tobago.
She has always downplayed individual accomplishment and even on Friday night after emphatically leading Canada to the Olympics, she was thinking of teammates for whom a dream just became a reality.
“I think it’s starting to hit the younger players, you see the excitement in their faces that they’re going to the Olympics.”
Two of those youthful faces – Nichelle Prince with Deanne Rose on the receiving end – created Canada’s third goal in the 86th minute to snuff out any chance of Costa Rica completing its comeback after it cut Canada’s lead in half from a penalty kick 13 minutes earlier.
“(Head coach) John (Herdman) created a pipeline to the national team and these players fit seamlessly into what we’re doing. I think the Pan American Games last summer, gave them experience in big time games, pressure games and the results are showing.”
Through Friday’s match, Canada has 17 of its 24 goals from players who are 21 or younger. Joining Prince and Rose in the three-goal club are Ashley Lawrence and Rebecca Quinn. Another up-and-comer, Janine Beckie, has two goals, while Canada has counted singles on the score sheet from Kadeisha Buchanan, Gabrielle Carle and Jessie Fleming. All of these players, outside of Prince and Rose were named to the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games squad.
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The youthful transition suits Sinclair just fine. Her confidence in the team seems high as ever.
“I don’t think there are really any challenges,” the captain said when asked what stood in Canada’s way of returning to an Olympic podium.
“We’ll try to spend more time with each other. Between now and the Olympics there are professional games so we’ll be away from the team a little bit.”
Sinclair spends her club season in the National Women’s Soccer League with Portland Thorns FC, a team where she plays alongside some of the best in women’s international football.
“Biggest challenge really is the women’s game itself, that it’s growing. More and more teams are coming up and are capable of winning, we were proof of that in 2012 in London.”
Before they go to Brazil, where the football tournaments will be played throughout the country with the medal matches slotted for the legendary Maracana, there is still work to do in Houston this weekend when Canada meets the United States in the tournament final.
That match will take place on Sunday at 5 p.m. ET on Sportsnet One.
“We had a goal of qualifying for Rio, but we want to be CONCACAF champions.”
“We enjoyed this for a little bit, but we want to give (the United States) a run for their money.”