Women's soccer earns Olympic spot
Hosea Cheung, QMI Agency
VANCOUVER -- When women's soccer kicks off at the Olympics this summer, the Canadians will be there. They made sure of it Friday.
Backed by a boisterous sea of red and white at BC Place, Canada's national team earned their spot in the 2012 London Games with a thrilling 3-1 semifinal win over Mexico at the qualification tournament.
"Mission accomplished," said coach John Herdman. "It's been an amazing journey. They knew what they had on their shoulders tonight and there was no way they were going to let Mexico take them over, in their own country, in their own stadium, in front of all the fans. That was the thing that was driving them tonight."
It was an emotional victory for the Canadians in front of a record-setting crowd of 22,954, highest for a CONCACAF qualifying game. It was also a giant step towards redemption from their disappointing World Cup showing in July.
"When that whistle sounded, I started bawling. I was so pumped," said midfielder Kaylyn Kyle. "It's surreal and I called my parents in the dressing room and I was crying to them. It's just really cool to do it in Canada with all our fans. It's great for women's soccer to get this turnout."
For some of the veteran members on the squad, it was also sweet revenge.
The memories from seven years ago was still on their minds, when, under then-coach Even Pellerud, a 2-1 semifinal loss to Mexico at the 2004 qualifiers kept Canada out of the Summer Games that year.
This time, led by Herdman, they weren't going to let it happen again. Canada will head to the Olympics for the second time — having been to the Beijing Games in 2008 — while denying the Mexicans their London trip.
Despite achieving their ultimate goal at the CONCACAF tournament, the Canadians aren't done yet. They face USA in the final Sunday, a possible statement game as Canada has yet to beat the Americans on home soil. The States' 3-0 victory over Costa Rica earlier in the night also earned them an Olympic berth.
Friday, in a game when the Canadians needed it most, their tireless captain Christine Sinclair put together another brilliant performance. The star striker scored twice, including the dagger tally in the 76th minute, to help secure the result.
"We're a team that never gives up," Sinclair said. "I'm so proud to be from here and to see all the supporters wearing the red and white. We're going to enjoy this."
She had earlier set the tone with her first goal in the 15th minute. Started by a Lauren Sesselmann cross into the box to Melissa Tancredi, the forward made a terrific touch to Sinclair, who was unmarked from about 12 yards out. The nation's top female player of all-time made no mistake, scoring to send BC Place into a frenzy.
Then, just moments after she nudged the ball wide on a breakaway, Tancredi made up for her miss by finishing off a quick passing play, set up by Kelly Parker, her second goal of the tourney. But despite the marker, the crowd fell silent as Sinclair, who had one-timed a pass from Rhian Wilkinson to Parker, laid on the pitch holding her leg in pain. Sinclair, who managed to limp off on her own, returned moments later with her team up by two goals.
Canada had several more quality chances before the Mexicans finally struck. After Canadian keeper Karina LeBlanc punched a corner kick out of a crowded box, Veronica Perez blasted a shot in the 67th minute to pull the Mexicans within one, making things interesting.
But Sinclair added the final marker, her 129th career goal, now tied with American Abby Wambach for third all-time in women's soccer. It was also Sinclair's tournament-leading ninth goal.
"This is up there," Sinclair said when asked about where this game ranks in her career. "These are probably more nerve-wracking than the actual games in the tournament because you can lose and not even go."
The win improves Canada's all-time record over Mexico to 17-1-1. The Mexicans had nine shot on target, one more than Canada's eight.
Note: Sesselmann returned for the first time since injuring her knee in Canada's first game last Thursday. The defender was sporting a knee brace and was subbed off in the second half.