There are many moments that Canada’s Christine Sinclair can point to as ones to remember in her illustrious career. While winning two Olympic bronze medals are at the top of her list, a decisive penalty kick taken last year rates just as high.
It was the opening match of the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™, with Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium the setting for the curtain-raiser to the biggest football competition to be hosted in the history of the North American nation.
53,058 passionate supporters cheered on the home side in their Group A opener versus 1999 Women’s World Cup finalists China PR. Despite the crowd’s best efforts, both sides looked destined for a goalless stalemate after creating quality chances at both ends.
As the match entered injury time, the decisive moment arrived. Ukrainian referee Kateryna Monzul awarded the tournament hosts a penalty after Rong Zhao fouled Canadian substitute Adriana Leon in the China PR box. The spot-kick responsibility fell on the shoulders of Canada’s inspirational captain, who duly dispatched her penalty strike past a diving Wang Fei in the Chinese goal to secure an invaluable opening-day win for John Herdman’s side.
Though she looked assured in her actions, Sinclair admitted to feeling the nerves as she stared over the spot-kick. “To be honest, a little bit of panic,” she told FIFA.com. “Obviously, knowing that I was going to be the one taking it, there was a couple of seconds of panic. We’d worked a long time on the mental side of the game, so it was just getting back to the task.
“I’ve practiced these [penalty kicks] a million times and I’d actually taken one against that same keeper earlier in the year and had scored against her, so you’re wondering ‘which way should I go?’. I just put the ball down and pick a spot and hope it goes in.”
Canada’s all-time leading scorer with 165 goals in 250 international appearances, Sinclair may have registered more pleasing goals on the eye during her career, but that penalty strike still ranks highly for the 33-year-old.
“It’s definitely up in the top couple,” Sinclair said. “Knowing you are playing in the opening game of the World Cup in front of your home fans and playing in front of the world on TV, it was probably the most pressure-filled goal I’ve ever scored.”
For many Canadian football fans, Sinclair’s winning penalty and the resulting victory were not the only memories they took away from that contest in northern Alberta. It was also the emotional celebration that the Canadian players and staff shared in at their bench, with Sinclair leading those celebrations by running straight from the China PR box and into the welcoming arms of Herdman.
The striker believes that moment defines Canada as a side. “I think you saw it in pretty much all the goals we scored in the World Cup - everyone ran to the bench,” Sinclair said. “We are a true team – the staff, the players…
“You could just see the relief in our team on the field and on the bench. We’d been waiting for this tournament for years and years. With the pressure that was put on us, and the expectations that we put on ourselves, to be able to celebrate with the entire team was very special.”
It was also a moment that helped get last year’s Women’s World Cup off and running, with Sinclair taking particular delight in helping to get the party started. “The way we left it until the very end made it a very exciting game for everyone to watch,” she said. “If that was just the start of the tournament, I think people knew they were in for a great show over the next few weeks.”