Records fall to skipper Sinclair

Christine Sinclair hesitates. Smiles. Blushes. Looks skywards. Canada's 24-year-old captain has just been asked which record is next in her sights after becoming her country's record FIFA Women's World Cup goalscorer. The pause for thought is to consider whether there are any left to pursue.

After all, Charmaine Hooper's haul of four finals goals is not the first to have been eclipsed by a young woman who, in June, surpassed her legendary former strike partner's overall total for the Canucks with strikes number 71 and 72 of an already-remarkable international career. Eleven more have followed since as has her 100th cap, earned in Canada's final pre-China 2007 warm-up match against Japan. Sinclair's hesitation, therefore, is as inevitable as the question that precedes it.

"What's next?" pondered the big striker. "Well, it would be nice to get to 100 goals. But I think it'll take me a couple of years to get there. I didn't even know I had broken the World Cup record till someone told me in the press conference. I didn't realise I was so close, I just assumed Charmaine had scored more because she'd been around forever. But it's up there with the best records I've achieved so far. The World Cup only comes round every four years after all, and you're not playing against teams you should be killing 15-0 - these are the best in the world."

'A world-class striker'
It says everything for the standards that Canada has come to expect from its most famous footballer that coach Even Pellerud's reaction to Sinclair's latest record-breaking feat was merely to shrug. "She never plays a bad game any more," said the Norwegian. "She's a world-class striker. There is always something good going to happen when you get the ball to Christine."

Pellerud has previously said that China 2007 should be the tournament at which his captain peaks, and in doing so silence the critics who claim that she lacks the attributes to be ranked alongside the likes of Marta and Birgit Prinz as one of the women's game's true greats. Sinclair herself claims to be "a much more well-rounded player" than the one who scored four times at USA 2003, and it is fitting that the breaking of Hooper's records should coincide with the 24-year-old assuming her predecessor's role as the team's talisman and off-field leader.

Sinclair's willingness to take on responsibility and a straight-talking style of leadership even led her into conflict with her former strike partner when Hooper, along with two fellow stalwarts, refused to report for an exhibition series last year. For Sinclair, it was a sin that even the trio's long and distinguished service could not excuse. "They let down their friends and team-mates," was her blunt verdict. "I wouldn't want them back."

Yet this was not the then 23-year-old marking herself out as Canada's new spokesperson, but rather reaffirming a long-held belief that the team should always take precedence over individual interests or personal squabbles. "I try to be a leader by example," is her simple explanation. "I fight for my team-mates with all that I have. They do the same for me."

Strength in unity
The camaraderie within the Canucks squad certainly appears to have benefited from the exclusion of Hooper and her fellow rebels, with Sinclair at the head of a new generation forming an influential core within Pellerud's pool.

The group in question first came to prominence at the 2002 FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship, when hosts Canada marched all the way to the final thanks largely to a 10-goal contribution from Sinclair that still stands as a tournament record. Seven veterans of the extra-time final defeat by USA are here in China, and no fewer than five - Kara Lang, Erin McLeod, Candace-Marie Chapman, Katie Thorlakson and the skipper herself - started against Ghana and are likely to keep their places for the win-or-bust clash with Australia.

"Our entire starting front three is the same that played at the U-19 World Cup, and that team is definitely providing a really good base for the seniors now," said Sinclair. "Personally, I've never been part of a team as close-knit as this one. We've been in residency, living in each other's pockets, since January and it's really brought us together. This group has known each other forever, we're great friends, and I believe that could be vital when it comes to the crunch for us. Australia are a good side but I like the fact that we have the experience of being in this situation before.

"It was the same for us in 2003, we had to beat Japan to advance, so I think that should give us something that the Australians don't have." One suspects, however, that considerably more important to Canada than the memory of a previous triumph will be the presence of their prolific skipper.