180 and counting: Canada's Sinclair scores to move ever closer to goal record
Veteran striker 5 away from mark after scoring only goal in friendly vs. England
Cometh the hour, cometh the woman.
Christine Sinclair stepped up when it counted Friday, scoring career goal No. 180 to lift Canada to a 1-0 victory over England in a women's soccer friendly.
The Canadian captain pounced on the rebound after Nichelle Prince's shot hit the crossbar and bounced back. Sinclair controlled the ball with her thigh and then knocked it in from close range with her right foot for the 81st-minute winner.
The 35-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., is now just four goals back of retired American Abby Wambach's world record of 184.
"It's just an honour to be chasing Abby down," said Sinclair, who scored her first goal for Canada on March 14, 2000, in her second senior appearance.
But in typical Sinclair fashion, she wants to put the chase behind her.
"I don't want it to be the focus heading into the World Cup," she said after the match. "It's not what our team should be focusing on and it's not what I want to be focusing on."
WATCH | Christine Sinclair scores 180th international goal:
Canada coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller was less reticent, saying Sinclair was "huge ... for this side and this country."
He praised his skipper for her work rate, disrupting England on the ball. "She can score as well," he added with a smile.
Sinclair had help on the goal before Prince lashed her shot off the woodwork.
Ashley Lawrence played provider, sending a fine cross into the English penalty box. At attempted English clearance went up in the air and Prince volleyed it with power as it came down.
The win was a measure of revenge for the Canadian women, who were knocked out of the 2015 World Cup by England in a 2-1 quarter-final loss in Vancouver. The teams had not met since.
"It was just a battle, two of the top teams in the world going head to head," said Sinclair. "I think it was a matter of inches. They made a couple of great saves, our 'keeper made a couple of great saves. And we were fortunate to get one."
The win is a big boost ahead of this summer's World Cup, given England is currently ranked third in the world and Canada is No. 5.
Heiner-Moller called it a "very good performance" against am English team expected to challenge for the World Cup.
"And I think we proved we are as well now ... I think this was a big step for us," he added.
Unbeaten in 5 games
The Canadian women are unbeaten in five games (3-0-2) in 2019 and have yet to concede a goal.
Friday's game drew 5,682 to the Academy Stadium, which is home to the Manchester City women's team.
"It's the perfect prep for us for the World Cup," said Sinclair. "I think you're looking at two teams that hopefully are going to go pretty far in the tournament."
The Canadian women improved their record to 6-7-0 against England. They had lost five of the last six meetings dating back to 2013. The lone victory during that stretch was a 1-0 decision in Hamilton before the 2015 World Cup.
Looking to maximize the FIFA international window, Canada now heads to Spain to face No. 38 Nigeria on Monday at Pinatar Stadium in Murcia.
England hosts No. 13 Spain in Swindon on Tuesday.
The Lionesses moved up in the rankings after winning the SheBelieves Cup earlier this year, defeating No. 7 Japan and No. 10 Brazil and tying the top-ranked Americans.
Canadian Janine Beckie, who plays for Manchester City, found herself facing a good number of her club team. Of the nine Man City players in the England squad, five started — goalkeepers Karen Bardsley, defenders Steph Houghton, Abbie McManus and Demi Stokes and forward Nikita Parris.
England had the better start Friday but engineered few chances out of it. And the Canadians, frustrating England with their high press, gained momentum as the first half wore on.
Canadian 'keeper Stephanie Labbe was finally called into action late in the first half, diving to her right to parry away a Parris shot from the edge of the penalty box.
Bardsley then made a fine save to parry a Beckie shot from distance after Sinclair was making a nuisance of herself among the English defence.
Booked in the first half for a challenge, Canadian fullback Allysha Chapman escaped further punishment in the second when she took down Parris. Chapman was substituted soon after. Jayde Riviere, 18, came on for her second cap and soon made an impact, with a fine sliding tackle to end an English attack.
For Sinclair, the Manchester visit marked her first trip back to the city since 2012 when she scored a remarkable hat trick at Old Trafford in a painful 4-3 extra-time loss to the U.S. in the Olympic semifinals.
Academy Stadium is just 7.5 kilometres away from Old Trafford, home of Manchester United.
Heiner-Moller used a 3-5-2 formation earlier this year at the Algarve Cup. Sophie Schmidt, normally a midfielder, dropped into the backline and Beckie and Lawrence were used as wingbacks.
He opted for a back four to start Friday with Lawrence, Kadeisha Buchanan, Shelina Zadorsky and Chapman.
The Women's World Cup starts June 7 in France.
Canada, which will play a pre-tournament match against Mexico in Toronto on May 18, has been drawn with No. 46 Cameroon, No. 19 New Zealand and the eighth-ranked Netherlands at the World Cup.