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Soccer Canada captain Christine Sinclair celebrates 36th birthday with lava cake

A representative from the World Cup’s local organizing committee presents Canada captain Christine Sinclair with flowers on her 36th birthday during a practice session at Stade Paul Bourgeat in Grieres, France, just outside of Grenoble on June 12, 2019.

Neil Davidson/The Canadian Press

Christine Sinclair’s wish for her 36th birthday was simple and sweet – lava cake.

There were other perks. A representative from the local Women’s World Cup organizing committee surprised the star forward from Burnaby, B.C., with a bouquet before training.

Sinclair did not talk to reporters Wednesday, but veteran midfielder Sophie Schmidt said the skipper had woken up to a sign on her door. Stevie Wonder’s Happy Birthday was one of the first songs played during pretraining as the team piled out of the bus and put on their boots at the picturesque Stade Paul Bourgeat in Gières, just outside Grenoble.

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“She’ll probably get a cake. She’s requested a lava cake. But I don’t know if that’s going to come to fruition,” Schmidt said with a laugh.

While a favourite among the team, cake is a rare treat, according to Schmidt.

“She’ll probably get her own teeny-weeny one,” she said. “We’ll all be jealous.”

Fellow midfielder Desiree Scott seemed confident Sinclair would get her wish.

“We celebrate birthdays right. You definitely deserve cake on your birthday and Sincy will be getting one tonight,” Scott said. “We’ll be singing for her. It’s our captain’s birthday. We’re happy for her.”

Fullback Ashley Lawrence celebrated her 24th birthday on Tuesday, with cake on the menu.

“We just love dessert on this team,” forward Janine Beckie said. “Any kind of dessert we can get around birthdays is pretty exciting.”

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Sinclair, who shares her birthday with Cameroon’s Michaela Abam (22) and Marthe Ongmahan (27) and Thailand’s Orathai Srimanee (31), is the seventh-oldest player at this World Cup.

At 41 and three months, Formiga became the oldest player to feature in a Women’s World Cup when she started in Brazil’s 3-0 win over Jamaica on Sunday, surpassing American Christie Rampone (40 and 11 months in 2015).

Competing in her fifth World Cup, tying Karina LeBlanc’s Canadian record, Sinclair is four goals from surpassing retired American Abby Wambach’s world record of 184.

Her composure and vision in front of goal are still impressive. Sinclair remains the tip of the Canadian spear, flanked by the speedy Nichelle Prince and multitalented Beckie.

Schmidt and Jessie Fleming are talented providers behind her.

Coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller says Sinclair has expanded her game in the past three years.

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“When I came [here] first, she was a player who couldn’t go back-to-back,” he said. “Then leading into the [Rio] Olympics, she could. And now she can go back-to-back against Tier 1 opposition, which is quite impressive.

“So one thing is she knows her body a little bit better and can take good care of that. But she has worked very, very hard during the winter. We talked about this [before the World Cup]. She needed to be in her best shape coming into this tournament because we do want her to defend more. And she can do that. And she can do that back-to-back.

“So it’s impressive. It takes some physicality, but it takes a lot of heart.”

Canada also needs her goals. While the Canadian women are unbeaten in nine games this year, they have scored just nine goals (while allowing one). Sinclair has four of those goals, plus two assists in 2019.

Sinclair was one of several players watching rather than participating in the portion of the training open to media Wednesday. Heiner-Moller played it down, saying it was just one of many individualized programs on the team.

But with three preliminary-round games in 10 days, Canada faces a demanding schedule.

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A captain who prefers to lead by example, Sinclair is more comfortable speaking out when needed these days.

“It’s a role that I have evolved into,” she said before the game against Cameroon. “I think I was thrust into it at a young age with [former coach] Even [Pellerud]. I’m not the most vocal person. I never will be. But I think I’ve learned the power of my voice and I’ll speak up when it has to be said. And then just leading on the field, day-in, day-out, doing what’s best for this team.

“There’s a group that has sort of taken over, which is cool to be a part of that.”

Sinclair also plays a huge part in ensuring that the Canadian team culture is welcoming to all, ensuring that teenagers Jordyn Huitema, Deanne Rose and Jayde Riviere – now half Sinclair’s age – and others old and new feel comfortable.

With three points under its belt after Monday’s 1-0 win over Cameroon, Canada was in high spirits on Wednesday.

And what’s not to like? Grenoble is one big picture postcard. The team is staying in a nearby village, nestled in the shadow of the Alps and famed for its spa waters.

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“It’s quaint, secluded,” said Scott, who spent some time kicking a soccer ball with the local coffee shop owner.

After a downpour greeted its arrival from Montpellier on Tuesday, the team trained in glorious sunshine Wednesday on a pristine pitch with a magnificent mountain backdrop.

“Isn’t it gorgeous? Quite the view,” Scott said enthusiastically.

A World Cup or Olympics often means a team is in a bubble for weeks, shuttling between hotel and training. On Wednesday, the Canadian women seemed in no hurry to leave once training was done.

“The scenery’s beautiful isn’t it,” Heiner-Moller said after training. “For the players, if we were in a different environment, I think we’d be on the bus already. … Here it’s just different. They’re hanging out. The weather is good. You look at the mountains and then you look at the other side and there’s more mountains.”

And perhaps cake.

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