Canadian soccer had never seen a day like it: a record crowd, a dramatic win and hosting of a first ever senior FIFA Women’s World Cup™ match. Yet, it could all have ended in anguish in Edmonton. The home team needed eleventh-hour intervention from national icon Christine Sinclair to seal what ultimately was a perfect day.
Sinclair seemed the coolest figure in the stadium as she gently placed her 92nd-minute spot-kick narrowly past the outstretched palm of China PR goalkeeper Fei Wang for the only goal of the game. The relief was palpable, but so too was the explosion of joy from a colourful crowd who never wavered in their support despite what seemed imminent disappointment.
Local heroine Erin McLeod spent a chunk of her childhood in Edmonton and, after 13 years in the national team, knew better than most what the day meant. “I never thought I would play in a home World Cup, and certainly never with this many people showing up,” McLeod told FIFA.com. “Not many people get to have this experience.
“In the second half I was thinking ‘it’s time’ [to get the goal]. We kept going forward but once we got that PK I was pretty happy.
“With so many family it is really nice to share this with everyone, especially as I’m rarely home.” McLeod had 15 family members on hand including a pair of nonagenarian grandparents. “I’m sure they were really nervous the whole time,” McLeod said, smiling at the thought.
Cometh the hour, cometh the women.
The result was a perfect start for a team which dominated large chunks for the contest. “I’m really proud of what we pulled off out there,” said the beaming Canada coach, John Herdman, enjoying the energy in the post-match media conference. “Three points, well done Canada.”
Despite the 90 minutes of attrition in the afternoon summer sun, the extensive match coverage across Canada on Saturday night is dominated by Sinclair’s pivotal moment – and subsequent celebration. “When the [penalty] call came I celebrated like we had just scored,” said Herdman.
“Cometh the hour, cometh the women. That was just outstanding from Christine Sinclair. I knew there was only one women who would step up in the 90th minute and write the script like she always does – and she did. And my celebration…I’m pretty embarrassed because it is probably the only time a coach has jumped on a player. Lucky I’m only nine-stone something.”
As for the star of show, Sinclair did admit to some trepidation in front of a watching nation as she attempted to add another chapter to an already storied career by scoring her 154th international goal.
“The first thing going through my head was the fans were very loud,” Sinclair said, her face reddened by her on-field exertions and subsequent adrenaline rush. “I then remembered I took a penalty against China in January, but I put that thought aside, and it went in.
“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. The opening game with 50,000 fans, and the game on the line. Yeah it was nerve-wracking, but you live for those moments and I’m glad the team can rely on me.”
But the win was only part of the story. Edmonton turned on a perfect day and the crowd responded in kind, adding to the occasion by turning the venue into a sea of red. Notable was the family atmosphere and in particular the quantity of young boys and girls in attendance.
Typical was the Edmonton-based Cooper family with all five family members decked out in Canada national team gear, including children Jordyn, Tristan and Charlie. “I have been to the Commonwealth Stadium many times but it felt like a very different venue today,” said dad Jeremy. “I have never seen it like this and it was a special occasion.”
Perhaps the most appropriate reflection on a unique day came from eight-year-old Charlie. “It was really fun,” she said between giggles. “I felt joy.”