Canada draw 1-1 with hosts China
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Doug Smith (The Toronto Star)
The crowd was in full throat 45 minutes before the kickoff and never let up, about 60,000 screaming, chanting, flag-waving patriots who wanted to see nothing less than a home country victory.
But against that backdrop, an atmosphere like they have never seen before, Canada's Olympic women's soccer team summoned all the mental reserve it had to play to a 1-1 draw with China in Tianjin on Saturday night.
"It's just an amazing atmosphere," said Vancouver Whitecaps striker Christine Sinclair, whose 34th minute goal was the 94th of her international career. "Just to play in front of that many fans is just amazing. The attention the sport is getting is unbelievable."
The atmosphere in the Tianjin Olympic Center Stadium was electric. Practically every time China got the ball over the midfield line, the throng roared and rose to its feet, lending a sense of urgency to every foray the Chinese made.
But Canada, which beat Argentina to open the tournament, repelled every attack and carried the play for most of the game. Had they got a couple of breaks - Kara Lang rattled a shot off the post in the 59th minute, another Canada shot went off the bar in the first half - they could have had three points. China put on a late flurry in injury time, but a home victory would have been an unjust result.
"I think this was one of the better performances I have seen," said Canadian head coach Even Pellerud. "One of the better performances I have ever seen from a focus effort, from tactical discipline, from goal-scoring chances, consistency and also we seemed to be by far the fitter team out there and that surprised me a little bit.
"They had enough to delay the game and waste time and defend while we kept attacking.
"I was very pleased with the overall attitude among our players."
The draw leaves Canada and China tied atop Group E of the Women's Olympic Football Tournament with four points, which is one more point than Sweden after the Scandinavians beat now-winless Argentina 1-0 on Saturday afternoon.
The top two teams from each of the three, four-team groups advance to the quarter-final round, as do the top two third-place finishers. Canada would assure itself of a berth in the quarters by beating Sweden to finish preliminary round action on Tuesday and could still advance with a loss depending on other results.
"I think there's a good chance (the four points is enough to advance), but I don't have that brain to calculate that at this time," said Pellerud.
On another hot and steamy night in this city of about eight million, which is 120 kilometres outside of Beijing, the teams combined on a flurry of offence about two-thirds of the way through the first half.
After enjoying the run of play for the first 30 minutes, Canada took a 1-0 lead in the 34th minute when Sinclair took a lovely pass from Lang in the centre of the pitch just inside the box and put a little half-volley past China goalkeeper Yanru Zhang for the 94th goal of her senior national team career.
The lead lasted all of about 90 seconds, though. On a play some Canadians felt was offside, China's Yuan Xu broke in alone on Canada goalkeeper Erin McLeod, pushed the ball past her on the right and got a shot off that just got over the goal line, despite a sliding attempt at a clearance by Martina Franko.
Seconds later, Canada had a chance to re-take the lead, but Rhian Wilkinson's shot was deflected off the crossbar by Zhang.
"We had a ton of chances," said Sinclair. "We had the ball in their end most of the game, so it's frustrating. But to tie the host country – they're one of the best countries in the world – we can't really complain. We would have loved to have won."
Canada was playing without forward Melissa Tancredi, who watched from the substitutes' bench, as she was unable to play because of an ankle injury suffered early in Wednesday's 1-0 win over Argentina.
"We think she will be (available for Tuesday)," Pellerud said of Tancredi.
18.Erin McLeod; 3.Emily Zurrer, 4.Clare Rustad, 6.Sophie Schmidt, 7.Rhian Wilkinson, 8.Diana Matheson (2.Jodi-Ann Robinson 74'), 9.Candace Chapman, 10.Martina Franko, 11.Randee Hermus (17.Brittany Timko 63'), 12.Christine Sinclair (C), 15.Kara Lang (16.Jonelle Filigno 90')
Subs not used: 1.Karina LeBlanc, 5.Robyn Gayle, 13.Amy Walsh, 14.Melissa Tancredi
1.Yanru Zhang; 3.Jie Li (C), 4.Ying Zhang, 5.Xinzhi Weng, 6.Na Zhang, 7.Yan Bi, 8.Yuan Xu, 11. Wei Pu (17.Yasha Gu 46'), 12.Jiahui Lou (10.Sa Liu 88'), 14.Huana Liu (16.Dandan Wang 73'), 15.Gaoping Zhou
Subs not used: 2.Fan Yuan, 9.Duan Han, 13.Shuai Jiang, 18.Wenxia Han