HOUSTON, TEXAS – After all these years, Christine Sinclair still has the ability and power to amaze.
The Canadian women’s soccer team secured a third consecutive Olympic berth after they picked up a 3-1 win over Costa Rica on Friday night at BBVA Compass Stadium in the semifinals of the CONCACAF qualifying tournament.
Sinclair scored a goal in each half as she brought her international total to 161 goals in securing Canada’s spot at this summer’s Rio Olympics. Deanne Rose’s third goal of the tournament sealed the result late for the Reds.
“The feeling never gets old, the joy on those youngsters’ faces knowing that they’re going to the Olympics for the first time, it’s actually no different than the face of a Rhian Wilkinson who’s going for her third,” Sinclair said in the post-match press conference. “It never gets old. It’s an honour to represent your country at the Olympics and I hope we can do Canada proud again.”
MORE ON CANADA: Video: Match highlights of Canada's big win || Canada beats Costa Rica to qualify for Olympics || Video: Christine Sinclair scores stunner for Canada || Video: James Sharman goes 1-on-1 with Christine Sinclair || Video: James Sharman goes 1-on-1 with John Herdman || Video: Gerry Dobson and Karina LeBlanc recap Canada's big win || Deanne Rose a blossoming star for Canada || Video: Canada showed confidence, control vs. Costa Rica || Video: Representing Canada at Olympics never gets old
Friday’s affair against Costa Rica was Canada’s toughest game of the competition but it was still comfortable for long periods of time for Sinclair and her cohorts. Canada can now focus on trying to replicate the magic that led them to the podium four years ago in London where they won the bronze medal.
Costa Rica tried to press early, but Canada was more than up to the task.
Sinclair gave the Canadian side the lead in the 17th minute. Josee Belanger crossed in from the right and, after going over a number of heads, the ball came to Sinclair with all kinds of space in the penalty area.
Costa Rica’s marking was very poor and Sinclair did very well to take her time, chesting the ball to control it and then smashing a half-volley into the back of the net before heading to the sidelines to celebrate with her teammates on the bench.
If Sinclair’s first goal was nice, her second was another level.
In the 52nd minute, Costa Rica scuffed a clearance and the ball found Sinclair waiting near the edge of the penalty area.
Her back to goal, Sinclair chipped the ball with her right foot, turned to her right and fired a left-footed belter off the crossbar and down into the back of the net.
“You just have to see my reaction. It went ‘W-T-F,’” Canadian coach John Herdman joked.
It was one of those unconscious moments where the brain switched off and instinct took over. When you have the instincts of a Sinclair, that usually leads to something breathtaking.
“I don’t know what happened,” Sinclair said with a laugh. “I think I’ll have to see it on replay. The ball just bounced to me and I decided to juggle a little bit and turned and shot and I really don’t know that happened. I’ll have to see it again.”
Sinclair came off in the 82nd minute with a slight but noticeable limp, which would make her participation in Sunday’s qualifying tournament final unlikely.
Goalkeeper Erin McLeod also admitted she’s still getting treatment on an injured knee suffered in December. Despite a final that will be a derby of sorts against the United States, there’s really no point risking further injury to crucial players at this stage of the game.
But that’s not to say Canada is throwing in the towel now that Olympic qualification has been secured.
“There’s a group ready and hungry to play against the U.S. and we’re going to give them one hell of a fight as we always do,” Herdman stated. “We’re looking forward to it. That’s what all Canadians look forward to. That’s what everyone tunes into. The expected was done tonight and that wasn’t easy but we’re going to be ready for a hell of a fight.”
Costa Rica’s Raquel Rodriguez scored from the penalty spot in the 72nd minute after Canadian midfielder Desiree Scott was called for a foul in the penalty area.
Even when the one-goal deficit restored, there was never a sense that a Costa Rica revival was at hand and eventually Canada killed the game off for good.
Rose restored the two-goal advantage in the 86th minute when she raced onto a cross from the right. It wasn’t the best of finishes but she only had the goalkeeper to beat who wasn’t able to close the angle down quickly enough and the ball spun into the goal.
The expected is done for Canada. Now the real task lies ahead.