It was a storybook ending to Canada’s opening game of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup on home soil against China. Captain and all-time leading scorer Christine Sinclair scored a penalty kick in stoppage time to lead her country to a narrow victory over a resilient and youthful Chinese side.
For 90 minutes, the game looked destined to be the first ever-opening match of a Women’s World Cup to end in a draw, but Canada found a way to win it.
In front of a crowd of 53,058 - a record number for a soccer game on Canadian soil - at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, the Canadians had the upper hand for much of the game, but failed to convert any chances in the early going.
Canada’s first looks at goal of the game came off the boots of center back Kadeisha Buchanan, forcing the opposition keeper Wang Fei into a couple saves on the doorstep. The 19-year-old Buchanan - making her World Cup debut - was a standout performer for her side and highly rated by experts in the Women’s game.
Debuting a squad with no player over the age of 26 or previous World Cup experience, China exceeded expectations for their opening game of the tournament. Their best chance came in the 19th minute when Canadian defender Lauren Sesselmann played a soft back pass that Gu Yasha intercepted. However, keeper Erin McLeod was quick off her line to grab the ball and end any threat of danger.
The visitors came within inches of taking the lead just three minutes later when Wang Lisi hit a free kick from outside the box that took a trip across the inside of both Canadian posts.
Canada hit a post of their own a short while later when forward-turned-right back because of injury Josee Belanger hit the crossbar from distance off a volley. The Red and White came close again with 10 minutes remaining in the half when the Chinese defense deflected several shots, leading to a pinball-like sequence in the box.
Head coach John Herdman had seen enough 20 minutes into the second half when he made a couple substitutions, adjusting his side to a 3-4-3 formation to try and break down the organized defense of the opposition.
Canada pushed numbers forward but failed to convert any chances. Meanwhile, their counterparts seemed content with sitting back and fighting it out for the point.
One last roll of the dice saw 17-year-old Jessie Flemming head the ball across the box to teammate Adrianna Leon who was brought down by Zhao Rong in the 92nd minute in the Chinese penalty box, resulting in the spot kick.
Only one player was expected to step up and take the kick and under extreme pressure in front of the home crowd, Sinclair made no mistake in finishing it off and rescuing the three points for her side.
Canada’s next game is Thursday against Herdman’s former team, New Zealand. The No. 17 world ranked Kiwis face off against tournament debutant Netherlands in the second game of Saturday afternoon’s doubleheader in Group A.