Mon, September 23, 2013

Sinclair driving force in women's soccer

By STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency


Christine Sinclair made it known the Canadian women's soccer team was ready for London a month before the Olympics. (Carmine Marinelli/QMI Agency/Files)

Roughly two months before the start of the London Olympic Games, Canadian soccer legend Christine Sinclair abruptly cancelled a series of interviews she had scheduled with various media outlets.

No official word for the cancellation was given, but insiders said it was because Sinclair -- Canada's career scoring leader with 134 goals -- was tired and wanted to concentrate on the Olympics. Fortunately, while at a final pre-Olympics training camp in Switzerland a few weeks later, Sinclair agreed to a conference call and made it known the Canadian women's soccer team was ready for the London Games.

"I have no doubt we can beat any team on any day," Sinclair said. "But will we be able to do that consistently at a big tournament? We'll see."

How well the Canadian team fares in London largely depends on how the five-time FIFA player of the year nominee performs. When Sinclair, 29, gets into a zone, the Canadian women's soccer team generally does great things.

The native of Burnaby, B.C., is not only the leader of the Canadian team and the highest scorer in its history, she remains one of the best players in the world and is a definite game-breaker.

But not even Sinclair's goal-scoring magic has been enough in recent years to prevent the women's team from going on a roller-coaster ride in international play. The Canadian team always has been one of the strongest in the world (currently ranked No. 7) and confirmed that with an impressive fourth-place finish at the 2003 FIFA World Cup, where Sinclair scored three goals (tying teammate Christine Latham).

But then the team went on a downward spiral, going 1-1-1 at the 2007 World Cup, failing to make the knockout stage (though Sinclair again led Canada in scoring with three goals). Four years later, at the 2011 World Cup in Germany, Canada went a miserable 0-3 and scored only one goal (Sinclair).

That led to the exit of coach Carolina Morace and the hiring of John Herdman, the former coach of the New Zealand women's team.

Under Herdman's leadership, the Canadians rebounded from their poor showing at the World Cup to stun the competition at the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico and win the gold medal in a shootout. Sinclair tied the game at 1-1 in the 88th minute against Brazil and then scored in the shootout (along with Diana Matheson, Melanie Booth and Sophie Schmidt).

"This story is perfect," goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc said at the time. "We were knocked down after the World Cup, we fell down, and John came in and he said: 'What do you guys want?' We said, 'We want a gold medal.' To go down and to show the resilience our team has ... the message moving forward: 'You know what, you can knock us down, but we'll find a way.' "

There's a buzz around the team with Herdman at the helm. He has been described as a players' coach and the team is confident with his leadership and tactical approach.

When it was announced that Canada's first game in London would be July 25 against defending World Cup champion Japan, LeBlanc tweeted: "Road 2 success at Olympics starts off against WC Champions Japan. If it were easy, then everyone would have it. Time 2 work that much harder."

Sinclair said the veteran players who were in Beijing four years ago have learned valuable lessons about playing in an Olympics, such as understanding that getting the proper rest is the key.

"Obviously there are a lot of famous athletes (at Olympics). I remember our team four years ago trying to get pictures with people during a time when you're normally in camp, when you'd be resting, laying in bed and watching TV instead (of) stalking Lionel Messi and things like that. That has to change.

"The Olympics can be very overwhelming. But now there's a core group of us who have been there before and we can help the younger players (understand) what to expect and give them the guidance that we didn't have four years ago."

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca

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