Canada starts strong at Rio 2016 with terrifying and terrific win

Christine Sinclair collapsed after her 80th minute goal metres from where she left Australia's Lisa De Vanna flat on the turf. (Rovena Rosa/Agência Brasil)

Christine Sinclair collapsed after her 80th minute goal metres from where she left Australia’s Lisa De Vanna flat on the turf. (Rovena Rosa/Agência Brasil)

It was tough, tight and nerve-wracking on the pitch, but a 2-0 shutout on the scoresheet that puts Canada in a power position in Group F.

The current incarnation of the Canadian women’s soccer team has been empowered by the 2012 Olympic bronze medal win, but it’s a newer, less predictable squad that can’t be judged on those results. Lose flatly against Brazil in a friendly on a Saturday, hold them off long enough to get the win the next Tuesday. So the fate of Les Rouges in the opening match of the 2016 Olympics against 5th-ranked Australia was really anyone’s guess for about the first 20 seconds.

Christine Sinclair used veteran experience to catch Australia before they even got on their bikes, burning Alanna Kennedy and Laura Alleway with ease before setting up Janine Beckie for the fastest goal in Olympic women’s history. The game’s first minutes are rarely as important as their last minutes, but this squad needed to define what kind of Team Canada it was immediately.

What’s funny about the game’s first twenty minutes is how they defined the game but were mostly separated from its bulk by the red card to Shelina Zadorsky. The same exuberance that Canada showed in its last friendly against France helped it establish itself early on and it contributed to the foul that saw Canada go deservingly down to 10 players.

But although 4-4-1 is certainly not the formation head coach John Herdman anticipated before the game, the switch answered questions and brought results; Melissa Tancredi, a veteran of 2012 with a diminished role this year, made way like a good soldier for Rebecca Quinn. Her energetic play fit into the defense without missing a beat. It’s the defensive game that maybe gives the team its identity and purpose; a mix of young players and tough veterans scrapping it out as hard as they can to keep the team in the game and provide for the forwards.

Or in this match, just one forward. A transcendent forward in Sinclair whose service helped put Canada in front and who took advantage of Jessie Fleming’s long ball to put Australia away single-handedly. Her touch nudging the ball past rushing Aussie keeper Lydia Williams in midfield was perfect, just enough to leave Williams in the dust and give herself enough time before Lisa De Vanna arrived to send a loping chipped ball through the empty penalty area and into the goal.

Canada were lucky here. They did well after the ejection, but had Australia scored on the resulting free kick, it would have been over. The moments when Steph Labbé was on the deck with a leg cramp brought hearts into mouths. Beckie’s missed penalty in the second half could have been a costly missed opportunity. But with Australia in the middle ground of difficulty between Germany and Zimbabwe, they have got all three of the group stage’s most vital points and they were forced to fight together against the odds. Not a bad way to establish yourselves.


1’ – CAN – Janine Beckie
80’ – CAN – Christine Sinclair


19’ – CAN – Red – Shelina Zadorsky
22’ – CAN – Yellow – Jessie Fleming
48’ – CAN – Yellow – Kadeisha Buchanan


Shots: Canada 8 – Australia 22
Shots on Goal: Canada 4 – Australia 22
Fouls: Canada 9 – Australia 6
Offsides: Canada 1 – Australia 3
Corners: Canada 3 – Australia 6
Possession: Canada 41% – Australia 59%

Canada women’s national team: Stephanie Labbé, Ashley Lawrence, Shelina Zadorsky, Kadeisha Buchanan, Rhian Wilkinson (Allysha Chapman 46’), Jessie Fleming, Desiree Scott, Diane Matheson (Sophie Schmidt 69’), Janine Beckie, Christine Sinclair (c), Melissa Tancredi (Rebecca Quinn 23’).
Unused subs: Sabrina D’Angelo, Deanne Rose, Josee Belanger, Nichelle Prince.

Australia women’s national team: Lydia Williams, Katrina Gorry, Clare Polkinghorne (c), Laura Alleway, Chloe Logarzo (Lisa De Vanna 61’), Elise Kellond-Knight, Caitlin Foord, Emily Van Egmond, Alanna Kennedy, Samantha Kerr (Steph Catley 46’), Michelle Heyman (Kyah Simon 71’).
Unused subs: Mackenzie Arnold, Ellie Carpenter, Tameka Butt, Larissa Crummer.

Stray observations

  • Hey, this is happening! Some of my first posts here were about the 2012 Olympic run, so I wanted to write on the topic again. I’ve moved a lot since then, and I can’t say what will happen next. My last post was two whole Whitecaps season openers ago and very cautiously optimistic, but I moved even further east and got responsibilities while all kinds of Whitecaps games were on. So I don’t know where this goes. But it’s here now.
  • There are a lot of problems with the Olympics, and it’s been hard to balance my enthusiasm for the team and the sport with the fact that this year’s Games probably shouldn’t be happening. I’m gonna write about that sometime soon. (Luckily, the thing doesn’t actually start till Friday, so maybe I have borrowed time.)