Canada's women's soccer team showed it can finish off an important game with star striker Christine Sinclair on the bench.
Sinclair scored a goal and assisted on another in 45 minutes of playing time Saturday as Canada blanked Cuba 2-0 in CONCACAF women's Olympic soccer qualifying action.
Canada remained unbeaten after two games and clinched a semifinal berth with one preliminary-round game remaining. Cuba fell to 0-2 and was eliminated from playoff contention.
Melissa Tancredi scored the other Canadian goal. As promised, Canadian coach John Herdman overhauled his lineup following Thursday's 6-0 rout of Haiti. Herdman injected eight new starters.
“When you get put on the roster, you better expect to play,” said Sinclair, who subbed out at the start of the second half. “He told us heading into this tournament every single player was going to play, and everyone has. It's about creating that depth, because injuries happen in tournaments like this, Olympics or whatever the case. People need to be able to step in.”
Canada needs only a tie in Monday's game against Costa Rica to clinch first place in the A pool and get a date with the B pool's second-place team in the semi. The eight-team tournament will send two North American, Central American and Caribbean zone representatives to this summer's London Games.
Only strikers Sinclair and Tancredi and defender Shannon Woeller remained in place before a crowd of 12,417 at B.C. Place Stadium as all of the scoring occurred in the first half. Canada has now outscored its opposition 8-0 in the tournament, with Sinclair scoring five of the goals and assisting on two others.
“It was going to go either one of two ways,” said Herdman. “It was going to be a frustrating game, or it would be one where everything you hit goes in the back of the net, and it was a little bit of both there. But, I think, generally, job done. We managed to rest a few players tonight.”
In earlier action, Costa Rica blanked Haiti 2-0. Costa Rica remained unbeaten with a 2-0 record and also clinched a semifinal berth. Haiti dropped to 0-2 and saw its playoff hopes end.
Cuba goalkeeper Katherine Montesino also started her first game and kept the score much closer than it could have been, prompting Cuban players to hug after the game.
“The team was happy,” said coach Luis Elejalde. “This is the first time we've played in a CONCACAF tournament like this and we've faced two World Cup teams (Canada and Costa Rica), and both teams have been fairly close. This gives us the idea that we know we can keep on working to get better.”
Although Canada did not get the same goal production as in the opener, the hosts controlled the game throughout. Despite being down, Cuba maintained a defensive shell throughout the game and rarely got the ball into the Canadian zone.
“At times, it's disappointing for the fans when one team comes in and parks the bus,” said Herdman.
Canada recorded 26 shots, 14 on target. Cuba did not get credit for a single scoring chance or shot, although Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod had to catch a long free kick in the 40th minute. As a result, Herdman had no complaints about his club's attack.
“It was just one of them nights,” said Herdman. “You've got to accept that in football when a team counts that deep. It's rarity.”
“We're learning,” added Sinclair. “In the past, a game like tonight, we would have just been launching balls into the 18 hoping.”
Sinclair opened the scoring in the 16th minute on a penalty-kick after Kaylyn Kyle was tripped in the 18-yard box. Kyle, one of Canada's better players on the night, was frustrated about missed chances but happy that she set up the penalty shot for the only goal that Canada needed.
She said the eight lineup changes at the start show the depth on Canada's bench. The opportunity to play a rare game in Canada in front of parents, family and friends also meant a lot to players who are usually reserves.
“Obviously, it was a little bit different of a game,” said Kyle. “They dropped 10 players back on us, so it was tough to break the lines. But we're looking forward (to the game) against Costa Rica.”
Notes: The crowd was a record for a CONCACAF women's game in Canada. ... Canadian forward Christina Julien did not play after suffering what coach Herdman described as a possible concussion late in Thursday's win over Haiti. But she was listed as a substitute. ... U.S. defender Ali Krieger will miss the rest of the tournament and the Olympics, if her team qualifies. She suffered torn medial collateral and anterior cruciate ligaments in her right knee late in the first half of Friday's 14-0 drubbing of the Dominican Republic and is expected to be out six to eight months. ... Earlier Saturday, Haiti No. 1 goalkeeper Ednie Limage was released from hospital after tests revealed she did not suffer any damage to her back in Thursday's loss to Canada. Limage, who plays for the University of Moncton, was hurt when she collided with a teammate while going up for a ball late in Thursday's contest. Walking in obvious pain, Limage watched Haiti's loss to Cuba in the stadium.