Canada open Olympics with victory


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Jeff Blair (The Globe and Mail)

Oh my goodness, but this is going to be tough for the Canadian women's soccer team. Oppressive heat. Respectful, but ardent and vocal Chinese fans.

Wednesday night brought a win - a 2-1 win over Argentina, in fact, in the first-ever Olympic appearance by Canada's women's team - but it's nothing compared to what waits for Canada on Saturday when they play China.

"Oh for sure. The crowd's going to be amazing," Vancouver Whitecaps striker Christine Sinclair said after Canada staved off a late charge by the Argentines in 30-plus degree temperatures and 70-plus per-cent humidity and a thick, soupy, smelly blanket of grey goo hanging over the Tianjin Olympic Centre.

"They're one of the best teams in the world," added Sinclair. "They will keep the ball and we're just going to have to run and chase and chase."

Several of Canada's players stayed around after their game to watch the Chinese play Sweden. The chills when 40,000-plus Chinese sang each syllable of their anthem with so much force that the Swedish players stared in awe and even smiled was one of the few breaks available from the oppressive climatic cloak. True, both teams have to deal with it.

But still…

"We were getting winded going up the stairs," said Canada's Rhian Wilkinson. "We've been here before. Everyone's suffering the same amount. I don't see how anybody can adapt to that. If anything, their lungs are deteriorated more and we should be running them off the field."

For the ninth-ranked Canadian team, it was their first-ever Olympic appearance.

Canada's match began before most of the crowd started filing in to the 60,000-seat venue for China's game, and was played under a dirty, low-hanging sky that had threatened rain earlier in the day. These are supposedly the 'sold-out' Olympics, but huge sections of the venue were vacant when the Chinese game started.

Much of the crowd at Canada's game - which was bipartisan and cheered loudly whenever either team made a move towards the opposing goal - fanned themselves with gold-colored hand-fans, as the play continued.

The game was the first official athletic competition of the Olympics, kicking off two minutes before Germany and Brazil in Beijing. And Canada was predominant in the first half, taking the lead on 27 minutes when Whitecaps midfielder Candace Chapman skipped a ball past Argentine goalkeeper Vanina Correa.

They could have had at least two more goals, not including one that was wiped out on the offside. They tried to take advantage of their size difference against the smaller Argentines and Sinclair was particularly effective, drawing a finger-tip save from Correa. Whitecaps forward Kara Lang was also beating the Argentines down the right side all night. It paid off in the 72nd minute when Lang's glancing header put Canada 2-0 up.

Argentina's Ludmila Manicler tallied in the 85th minute after teammate Mariela Coronel dispossessed Wilkinson of the ball.

But the first half exacted a physical toll as well when Melissa Tancredi was pulled down to the right of Correa. Tancredi stayed in for the next 20 minutes, but was limping noticeably and was finally substituted in the 42nd minute.

Her replacement, Whitecaps forward Jodi-Ann Robinson, turned in the individual play of the game and brought the loudest roar from an announced crowd of 23,000. Knocked on her backside to the left of the Argentine goal, Robinson coolly used both legs to pull the ball away from the Argentine defender standing over her before scrambling to her feet to keep possession and set up Diana Matheson's shot.

The Canadian women will not be marching in Friday's opening ceremonies ahead of their game against China on Saturday.

"The ceremonies run late," said Sinclair. "We knew it a long time ago, so we could deal with it then. We can go to the closing ceremonies, instead."

Canadian head coach Even Pellerud was as laconic as ever.

"We were nervous," said Pellerud, "and they (Argentina) did a good job of settling the tempo down. We had chances and didn't score enough, that was the biggest problem.

"The players were a little more tense than normal."

Pellerud called Tancredi's injury 'an ankle issue' and said 'she is in pain.

"But," he added, "I hope she will be able to play."

CANADA
18.Erin McLeod; 3.Emily Zurrer, 4.Clare Rustad, 6.Sophie Schmidt, 7.Rhian Wilkinson, 8.Diana Matheson (17.Brittany Timko 80'), 9.Candace Chapman, 10.Martina Franko, 12.Christine Sinclair (C), 14.Melissa Tancredi (2.Jodi-Ann Robinson 42', 16.Jonelle Filigno 83'), 15.Kara Lang

Subs not used: 1.Karina LeBlanc, 5.Robyn Gayle, 11.Randee Hermus, 13.Amy Walsh

ARGENTINA
18.Vanina Correa; 2.Eva Gonzalez, 4.Florencia Mandrile (3.Yesica Arrien 91'), 5.Marisa Gerez (C), 6.Gabriela Chavez, 9.Maria Potassa (7.Ludmila Manicler 56'), 10.Mariela Coronel, 11.Fabiana Vallejos, 13.Maria Quinones, 15.Mercedes Pereyra (8.Emilia Mendieta 79'), 16.Maria Blanco

Subs not used: 1.Guadalupe Calello, 12.Daiana Cardone, 14.Andrea Ojeda, 17.Analia Almeida