Sinclair’s penalty kick saves hosts in Cup opener
EDMONTON — Christine Sinclair converted a penalty kick in the second minute of second-half stoppage time to give host Canada a 1-0 victory over China on Saturday in the opening match of the Women’s World Cup in Edmonton.
Canada was awarded the penalty by Ukrainian referee Natalia Rachynska after Adriana Leon was fouled by Rong Zhao. The sellout crowd of 53,058 at Commonwealth Stadium, the largest for a national team sporting even in Canada, roared when Sinclair’s shot sailed past goalkeeper Wang Fei.
Sinclair’s goal erased a frustrating match for Canada, which outshot the visitors 14-5.
Canada entered ranked No. 8 in the world. China is No. 16.
Following the gala opening ceremony that included performances by Canadians Sarah McLachlan and Tegan and Sara, China came closest to scoring with a first-half free kick that bounced off both posts.
It was the first match of the month-long tournament that will be played across six Canadian cities. The United States opens Monday against Australia, and the final is set for July 5.
The pressure is on Canada. Its best finish was fourth in 2003, and the Canadians were 0-3 at the 2011 tournament in Germany.
Canada has been on the rise in recent years under Coach John Herdman and also has seen increased support by the government in advance of the World Cup. The team had a surprising bronze medal finish at the 2012 London Olympics.
China is returning to the expanded 24-nation World Cup after missing out in 2011, when the field was 16 teams.
Known as the Steel Roses, China’s best World Cup finish was second in 1999, when the team fell to the United States in the final at the Rose Bowl.
On Saturday, Sinclair had a chance in the eighth minute, but her strike sailed just wide and past the outstretched arms of China’s goalkeeper.
Gu Yasha threatened Canada goalkeeper Erin McLeod, who came far off her line to stop the attack in the 18th minute. China’s Wang Lisi’s incredible free kick just minutes later bounced between both posts but did not make it in the goal.
Sinclair got a couple of chances late in the match, including a shot off a pass from Sophie Schmidt that was scooped up by Wang Fei.
Group A also includes New Zealand and the Netherlands; they met in the late match on Saturday.