VANCOUVER – Christine Sinclair booted Canada into the Olympics and herself into Canadian soccer folklore Friday night.
Sinclair scored two goals as Canada’s women’s soccer team qualified for the 2012 Summer Olympics on Friday night with a 3-1 victory over Mexico.
“It’s so nice to win at home,” said Sinclair, a 28-year-old Burnaby, B.C. native.
Canada, ranked seventh in the world, joined the top-ranked U.S. as the two CONCACAF representatives in the 12-team Olympic tournament in London. The U.S. beat Costa Rica 3-0 in Friday’s other semifinal.
“London’s calling,” said Canadian head coach John Herdman. “The podium is what we’re aiming for. We can do it.”
Melissa Tancredi scored Canada’s other goal and assisted on both of Sinclair’s markers before a CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament record crowd of 22,054 at B.C Place Stadium.
“Tank and I, we’ve had such a connection in this tournament,” said Sinclair. “When she’s healthy, she’s just such a force out there.”
Tancredi said the club was motivated to put on a good show after its early exit from the 2011 World Cup in Germany last summer. Former coach Carolina Morace was subsequently replaced by Herdman, an Englishman, who guided New Zealand at the World Cup.
“We just wanted to show everyone on home soil that we’re the team to compete,” said Tancredi. “We’re a really good team and we’re the one to beat. I think we proved that tonight. We were relentless. It just shows what kind of heart this team has.”
After the game, players dumped a bucket of cold water on Herdman and hugged each other and fans. The team later sang “We’ve got that loving feeling” in the dressing room.
“From players to staff, there were tears,” said Tancredi. “It was crazy. We’ve been wanting this for so long. I just can’t explain to you how much this means as a team.”
“The crowd was absolutely amazing,” Sinclair said. “I’m so proud to be from her and to see all the supporters wear the red and white. “
Veronica Perez replied for Mexico.
Sinclair’s two goals were her 128th and 129th at the international level, moving her into a tie for third place all-time with current American star Abby Wambach.
Canada earned its second ticket to the Olympics. The Canadians lost to the U.S. in the 2008 Olympic quarter-finals in Beijing and settled for eighth place.
Canada ousted Mexico from the Games for the second straight quadrennial. The Canadians also beat the Mexicans in the 2008 Olympic qualifying semifinals.
“They’re are a great side I know they will do well in the Olympic Games,” said Mexican head coach Leonardo Cuellar.
After a slow start with both teams marking each other closely, play opened up in the 15th minute when Sinclair opened the scoring to give Canada an early lead.
She put home a high left-footed shot from about 10 yards out after Tancredi flicked on Sophie Schmidt’s cross from the left flank into the box.
Tancredi and Sinclair almost connected again in the 21st minute when Tancredi fired Sinclair’s long lead pass from near midfield just wide of the post.
Tancredi made good on a second chance a minute later as she put in a Kelly Parker setup from the left side of the area to double Canada’s lead.
Moments before the goal, Sinclair was taken down by Mexican defender Marylin Diaz and was tended to by trainers. She left the pitch briefly, but returned.
“That’s Christine, broken nose, broken ankle, she can play with anything,” said Herdman.
It would happen again in the 38th minute when Mexican captain Maribel Dominguez received a yellow card for taking down Sinclair.
That didn’t stop Sinclair from taking a hard shot two minutes later from 12 yards out, forcing Mexican goalkeeper Cecilia Santiago to make the save.
Mexico began to press in the 55th minute, as a Mexican corner kick bounced off the crossbar to Jennifer Ruiz, but her shot hit the side of the net.
Mexico was eventually rewarded in the 67th minute when Canadian goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc punched away a corner kick, but Perez one-timed the long rebound into the net, reducing Mexicio’s deficit to 2-1.
“I was (angry) about the goal,” said LeBlanc. “I didn’t see it.”
Shortly after Tancredi was yellow-carded for arguing with the referee, Sinclair scored the insurance goal in the 76th. Tancredi sent a long pass from near the centre line to Sinclair and she lobbed the ball over a charging Santiago into the net.
“Oh my God, you have no idea,” said Sinclair of the relief she felt. “They scored a great goal and they had some momentum going. But as a result of them scoring that goal, they pushed some people up to try and get the tying goal and they left some gaps in their back line, and we were able to capitalize.
“I actually thought when I cleared the goalie it was going to do one of those (bounces) and go over the net, but luckily it didn’t.”
LeBlanc was also relieved, but said felt no pressure as Mexico threatened to get back in the game in the second half after a first half that was quiet for her.
The goal moved Sinclair into third on the all-time international scoring list with Wambach, who did not score in the American victory earlier Friday.
In the 88th minute, Canadian goalkeeper LeBlanc punched a Dominguez shot over the net to keep Mexico from getting closer.
“I love the pressure,” said LeBlanc. “I love all that stuff. I playing at home. Just, to me, it was like the perfect situation where it would be hard for us to fail. The only people that could beat us would be ourselves.”
The win atoned for Canada’s loss to Mexico in the 2004 Olympic qualifier and continued to build on the momentum of a gold-medal victory at last October’s Pan American Games.
“Tonight was all about us and not so much about the other team,” said Sinclair.
The win was Canada’s 10th straight, continuing the good times that began with the early World Cup exit. Former coach Carolina Morace was subsequently replaced by Herdman.
In the days leading up to this tournament, Herdman said he felt he could have led New Zealand to an Olympic berth, but Canada had a better chance of winning a medal, so he decided to move.
On Friday, his decision paid off. Canada will meet the U.S. in the tournament final Sunday.
Notes: Canadian defender Lauren Sesselmann returned to the lineup after missing the final two preliminary-round games with a knee injury. She logged 63 minutes before being replaced by Melanie Booth. … Canada’s Desiree Scott had a strong game in midfield, controlling play and making timely tackles and passes.