Four years after an eighth-place finish in Beijing, Canadian women’s soccer team captain Christine Sinclair admits she and her teammates may have been a little starstruck at their first Olympics.
While Canada went a respectable 1-1-1 in the group stage and lost to the eventual champion United States in the quarter-final, Sinclair noted Thursday that the team bound for London will be more focused on getting on the podium than some of the outside distractions.
Like seeking autographs from their fellow athletes.
“I remember our team four years ago trying to get pictures with people during times when normally we’d be resting,” Sinclair said. “We’d be laying in bed watching TV. Instead people were out stalking Lionel Messi and things like that. That needs to change.”
That 2008 team was the first Canadian women’s soccer team to qualify for the Games, and the experience ultimately was somewhat overwhelming for a relatively young squad.
With 12 of the 18 players returning, however, it’s now a veteran team, one that’s ranked seventh in the world and has a reasonable chance at playing for a medal.
Sinclair, the team’s 29-year-old superstar striker from Burnaby, B.C., believes some of what they learned in Beijing will pay off in terms of preparation.
“Now there’s a core group of us that have been there before,” she said. “We can sort of help the younger players know what to expect and give them that guidance we didn’t have four years ago.”
Canada begins Olympic play in Coventry on July 25 – two days before the opening ceremonies – against a Japanese team that is the reigning World Cup champ and ranked third in the world.
Sinclair and Co. will need to win at least one of their first three group games to advance to the quarter-finals, something that shouldn’t be a problem given their second game is against 61st-ranked South Africa.
Getting beyond that position will require beating some of the top teams, however, including potentially the United States, Japan or Sweden, the latter two of whom are both in Canada’s initial group.
Part of the trick for the Canadians will be to generate offence beyond that provided by Sinclair, who will be a target for defenders given she is one of the highest-scoring women’s soccer players in history and the catalyst for much of her team’s offensive game.
Sinclair scored two of Canada’s five goals in their four games in Beijing, including the only tally in the 2-1 loss to the United States.
“She is just such a pivotal player,” coach John Herdman said. “That’s what I’ve learned coming in – just how important she is.”
Sinclair tabbed the Americans as the favourites going in because of their depth and experience but she added that Canada will be able to compete with the top teams this time around.
Beating the likes of the United States has been a challenge in the past, as the Canadians hold an unimpressive 3-43-5 record against their powerhouse neighbours.
“I have no doubt we can beat any team any day,” Sinclair said of knocking off some of the world’s top clubs. “But we’ve yet to do it consistently and in an Olympic tournament. So we’ll see.”
Countries competing in the 2012 Olympic women’s soccer tournament