Sinclair guides Canadian women to CONCACAF crown
Win over Mexico propels Canadians to second championship
Just call Christine Sinclair, "Captain Fantastic."
Sinclair scored from the penalty spot in the 54th minute to guide Canada to a 1-0 win over Mexico in Monday's CONCACAF Women's soccer final in Cancun, Mexico.
The victory delivered Canada its first CONCACAF championship since 1998, when it also beat Mexico in the final. CONCACAF is the soccer confederation covering North and Central America and the Caribbean.
Canada and Mexico had already claimed automatic berths for the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup by reaching the final of the CONCACAF tournament, but continental bragging rights were still on the line in Monday's match.
Cue Sinclair, Canada's indomitable captain.
A finalist for the 2010 FIFA women's world player of the year award, the 27-year-old native of Burnaby, B.C., scored her sixth goal of the tournament — and the 108th (in 145 games) of her international career — to crown Canada the Queen of CONCACAF.
"Coming into this game there wasn't a lot of pressure on us, having already qualified for the World Cup. But to win a trophy is always nice and here in Mexico it's a very difficult environment to win it," Sinclair told CONCACAF.com after the game.
Defensive prowess, offensive power
Canada won the championship with equal parts defensive prowess and explosive offensive power.
The Canadians finished the tournament with a perfect 5-0 record, having outscored their opponents by a combined total of 17-0.
Balanced scoring was the key for Canada, with seven different players finding the back of net.
At the other end of the field, veteran defender Candace Chapman anchored a miserly defence that was impenetrable. That was certainly in full evidence Monday night, with Chapman and her defensive cohorts keeping dangerous Mexican forward Maribel Dominguez off the scoresheet.
"Our defence played incredible. To play five games without conceding a goal, I think a lot of credit has to go to them. I'm just so proud of our team," said Sinclair.
Credit must also go to Carolina Morace, who took over as coach of Canada in early 2009 and reshaped the team in her image.
Under previous coach Even Pellerud, Canada played a one-dimensional style of play that emphasized the long ball, physical strength and endurance.
A star goal-scorer with the Italian national team during her playing days, Morace instituted a tactical revolution upon succeeding Pellerud, extolling the virtues of maintaining possession and playing one-touch soccer.
Canada's metamorphosis under the Italian has been startling, and now the Canadian women head to their fifth consecutive World Cup with a world of confidence.
The opening half saw the teams locked in a tight tactical battle. Canadian goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc only had to make one save, while teammates Sinclair and Melissa Tancredi carved out quality scoring chances.
Canada should have been awarded a penalty shot late in the half. Forward Josee Belanger was brought down from behind by Mexico's Natalie Vinti inside the box, but the referee waved play on.
Dominguez forced a great save out of LeBlanc to start the second half, but the game swung in Canada's favour in the 53rd minute when Mexico's Veronica Perez was given a red card for a deliberate hand-ball clearance on the goal-line.
Sinclair calmly walked up to the penalty spot and converted to give Canada a 1-0 lead.
Now reduced to 10 players, Mexico feverishly pressed for the equalizer, but Canada's defence held firm, repelling each Mexican attack.
Canada has five wins and a tie in its last six meetings against Mexico. Mexico last beat Canada at the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament in 2004.
Earlier Monday the U.S. defeated Costa Rica 3-0 in the CONCACAF tournament's third-place match. The Americans must now face Italy in a two-game, home-and-home playoff for a World Cup berth.