“One of the greatest”: Canada’s Sinclair rewarded with Olympic gold

Sports Tokyo 2020

Canada pose with their Olympic gold medals after beating Sweden on penalties. AFP
Canada pose with their Olympic gold medals after beating Sweden on penalties. AFP

Yokohama, Japan | AFP

by Martyn WOOD

Christine Sinclair, the all-time leading scorer in international football, enjoyed the crowning moment of her career Friday as Canada won Olympic gold for the first time.

The 38-year-old Sinclair debuted for the national team as a teenager in 2000, and her 187 international goals are the most in the history of the sport, man or woman.

After bronze medals at London 2012 and Rio 2016, Sinclair finally got her hands on gold as Canada beat Sweden 3-2 on penalties in Yokohama following a 1-1 draw after extra time.

“I am so happy, so proud of this team. Never dreamed I’d be an Olympic champion,” said Sinclair, who watched the shootout drama unfold from the dugout after being replaced late in the second half.

“This team, we’ve gone through a lot together. My journey on this national team - to think of where this team is now, Olympic champions, compared to where we started. It’s absolutely remarkable.”

Sinclair appeared at the 2003 World Cup, where Canada finished fourth, but the team’s fortunes faded before the appointment of John Herdman as coach eight years later.

While Herdman stepped aside to take over the men’s side in 2018, his former assistant Bev Priestman -- part of England women’s coaching team at the previous World Cup -- took over the vacant role last year.

“It’s such a special group, we fought through the whole tournament, we fought tonight, and managed to find a way to win,” Sinclair told reporters.

“I honestly cannot believe what just happened for the last 40 days. We had a goal coming here to change the colour of the medal and we landed on the top of the podium, just such an honour to be part of this group.”

For many players in the Canada squad Sinclair, capped over 300 times by her country, was a childhood idol.

“I wanted to win this especially for her too because she’s changed the game of soccer. She’s everything to me. I’ve watched her since I literally could walk,” said midfielder Julia Grosso.

‘Best feeling in the world’

Grosso converted the winning spot-kick in the shootout as Sweden missed their last three attempts.

“The best feeling in the world. I’ve never felt like that in my whole life. It’s definitely a moment I’ll remember forever,” she said.

Canada goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe saved two penalties, repeating her heroics from the quarter-final victory over Brazil.

“Shootouts are always challenging, but as the keeper, I like to think that I enjoy them because there is no pressure on me. I’m not supposed to make saves. And if I can make a save, it’s great,” said Labbe.

She too was quick to hail Sinclair’s impact.

“One of the greatest players to ever play the game.

“Definitely in Canada the greatest ever, and to be able to say she is an Olympic champion now, for us to be able to rally behind it and do it for her is incredibly special.”

It could have been so different had Sweden captain Caroline Seger, an ex-teammate and friend of Sinclair’s, not skied her penalty over the bar when she had the chance to seal victory.

“It’s something I’ve been dreaming of my whole career, to be able to do this thing, and it was just an incredible feeling, and I was so sure I had it,” said Seger.

“But I didn’t, and it felt that my whole life just crashed.”

Sweden suffered the agony of a second straight final defeat, having lost 2-1 to Germany five years ago.

“After I saved the penalty and Seger was about to hit the ball I thought, ‘Wow now Caroline can score, and we’ll get the gold medal’,” said goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl.

“But it’s football, we love it, and we hate it.”

Sweden captain Caroline Seger ballooned her penalty over the bar when she had the chance to secure victory. AFP
Sweden captain Caroline Seger ballooned her penalty over the bar when she had the chance to secure victory. AFP

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Tokyo 2020 AFP