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Sinclair’s late goal lifts Canada past China

Karina LeBlanc, Canada

The Canadian women’s national team took to the pitch in Moncton, N.B. on Wednesday night against China in what was their final game in Canada before the London Olympics this summer. Canadian captain’ Christine Sinclair scored in the last-minute of added time to give her team a 1-0 win in front of 7,514 fans.

Canada got off to a good start in the first half creating numerous chances to score early on. Midfielder Brittany Timko got behind the Chinese defense in the 5th minute and just sent the ball wide past the goal. Timko had another chance to score in the 12th minute when Sinclair sent her in with a terrific through ball that split China’s defense. Timko had a partial breakaway, and Chinese goalie Wang Fei was lucky to make the save with her leg as she was sliding forward. Timko would have had an open net to shoot on if she had gone around Wang.

Sinclair and Kelly Parker worked a lovely give-and-go in the 31st minute. Sinclair passed the ball to Parker, who was in a great position to shoot on net. Instead of shooting, Parker slid the ball over to Sinclair who was just a tad behind the arrival of the ball. As a result a sliding Sinclair sent the ball wide of the net.

Canada created enough chances to score in the first half but nothing materialized from their opportunities. China had a pair of chances go well over the net and never showed any signs of scoring on Canadian goalie Erin McLeod.

Canada coach John Herdman made four substitutions before the start of the second half: Rhian Wilkinson for Robyn Gayle at right back, Emily Zurrer for Candace Chapman at center back, Kaylyn Kyle for Kelly Parker, and Melissa Tancredi came in for Brittany Timko. Herdman used has final two substitutions to bring on Marie-Eve Nault for Chelsea Stewart in the 58th minute and Chelsea Buckland for Sophie Schmidt in the 74th minute.

Having 17 players play in a soccer game is a great way to give players much-needed playing time. However it’s difficult to create a rhythm and team chemistry when so many changes occur in a 90 minute game. Canada failed to create enough scoring chances in the second half and that simply can’t happen at the Olympics. Against the power teams in women’s soccer you have to take advantage of your scoring opportunities. That’s what separates the good teams from the elite and dominating teams. Coach Herdman has many difficult decisions to make before he names his final roster of 18 players for the London Olympics.

Buckland, 22, showed great speed, and energy in her 15 minutes of playing time. Buckland is a terrific young forward who would be a great asset for Canada at the London Olympics. Buckland seems to play her best when she is attacking up front with Sinclair. Any player that can keep up with the greatest soccer player in Canadian history is someone who should make an Olympic roster.

Sinclair rescued her team by scoring the lone goal of the game in the 94th minute. Diana Matheson, returned to the starting XI after suffering a serious knee injury at the Pan American Games last fall and she setup up the winning goal. Matheson took a free kick from the wing, and Sinclair broke into the box and managed to get her left foot on the ball to send it into the net. China’s goalie had to chance on the play.

“It was a great ball in by Diana Matheson,” Sinclair told Sportsnet after the game. “Her and I we just have a great connection at times. It was one of those that would have been hard to miss.”

More importantly, she added, is solidifying the back line.

“Well our focus heading into this game was defense and trying to get a shutout. We’ve given up a few goals in our recent games and getting a shutout was the most important thing for us and we accomplished that.”

Sinclair scored her 14th goal in 2012, and her 134th all time. Sinclair is now one goal back of American forward Abby Wambach, who scored on Sunday v. China. The free kick that setup Sinclair’s goal was awarded by referee Michelle Pye after Pang Fengyue was issued a yellow card for a hand ball.

China played on Sunday and lost to team USA 4-1 in Chester, Prnn. It looked like China left all their energy and ability to play well in Pennsylvania. China plays a game that consists of short little passes with a tactical, and technical precision. China did not look interested in scoring a goal. Perhaps the Chinese player were looking forward to heading back home. This game was a good test for Canada because their first game at the Olympics is against World Cup winners Japan, who play similar to China but are a far better team.

Canada will have to improve immensely if they are to earn a medal at the London Olympics. One goal in 94 minutes of soccer against China is not going to cut it at the Olympic Games against group opponents Japan, Sweden, and South Africa. Canada will continue their residency program in Vancouver, B.C. during the month of June before heading to Europe in July for a quick tournament before the Olympic Games begin.

Canada Starting XI: Erin McLeod (GK), Robyn Gayle, Candace Chapman, Carmelina Moscato, Chelsea Stewart, Diana Matheson, Desiree Scott, Sophie Schmidt, Kelly Parker, Brittany Timko, Christine Sinclair

Notes: Canada will play their next game on Saturday, June 30th, in Sandy, Utah against the United States at 1 p.m. ET.

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