Soccer

Host Canada beats China, 1-0, in World Cup opener

Canada wins World Cup opener on Christine Sinclair's penalty kick in second-half stoppage time

Canada couldn't have scripted Saturday's opening act of the Women's World Cup any better.

The hosts played before a sellout crowd in Edmonton, beat China, 1-0, and got the winning goal from Christine Sinclair, the best player in the country's spotted soccer history.

Canada does need to work on its celebrations, though. Because after Sinclair converted her game-winning penalty kick in stoppage time, she raced across the field and into the open arms of Coach John Herdman before things got a little weird.

“My celebration, I'm pretty embarrassed,” Herdman said later. “I think it's the only time a coach has jumped on a player.”

He'll be forgiven — especially since Canada's second World Cup win since 2003 has the home team poised to advance out of group play for the second time ever.

“That was a good start for Canada,” Herdman said. “And that's what we wanted, the three points. That was the most important part.”

Before Saturday, interest in the tournament, the first senior soccer championship to be staged in Canada, had been lagging, with some officials fearing the opener wouldn't sell out. But a crowd of 53,058, the largest ever for a national team sporting event in Canada, wound up packing Edmonton Stadium.

They were treated first to a gala opening ceremony that included Canadian singer Sarah McLachlan but had no official representative of FIFA, world soccer's governing body, which continues to deal with the aftermath of last month's federal indictments.

However, the real show began in stoppage time, when China's Zhao Rong elbowed Canada's Adriana Leon, who made little effort to stop from tumbling to the turf.

Referees have been told to deal harshly with blows to the head in this World Cup, so Ukrainian official Natalia Rachynska did not hesitate in awarding the penalty kick.

“The first thing that went through my head was, ‘I'm taking this.' I've been practicing my whole life for that moment,” Sinclair said. “The next thing through my head was, ‘Man, the fans are very loud right now.'

“I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous. It's the opening game of the World Cup in front of 50-some-odd-thousand fans with the game on the line.”

Sinclair sent her kick low, toward the left post. And though Chinese keeper Wang Fei dived that way, the shot was just out of her reach, striking the post and ricocheting in for the 154th goal of Sinclair's career. Only Americans Abby Wambach and Mia Hamm have more.

“Yeah it's nerve-racking,” Sinclair added. “But I live for those moments.”

Baxter reported from Winnipeg, Canada.

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