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Sinclair calls time on international career in emotional farewell game

Canada beats Australia 1-0 in legend’s last contest with national side
Canada’s Christine Sinclair gestures to the crowd as she leaves the game in place of substitute Sophie Schmidt, not seen, during the second half of an international friendly soccer match, in Vancouver, on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Captain Christine Sinclair helped Canada to a win in her international swansong Tuesday, wiping away pre-game tears to help set up the goal in a 1-0 victory over Australia.

The 40-year-old from Burnaby gave way to 35-year-old Sophie Schmidt of Abbotsford in the 58th minute, marking the end of an glittering international career that produced a world-record 190 goals and a legion of fans.

Teammates embraced her on the field as the enthusiastic crowd of 48,112 stood and cheered. Sinclair handed the captain’s armband to Schmidt and gave her longtime friend a hug before applauding the crowd and embracing coach Bev Priestman.

Sinclair leaves having made 331 senior appearances, including 313 starts, and played 27,601 minutes for Canada.

Only retired American Kristine Lilly has more international caps to her credit with 354. No man or woman has more international goals.

The talismanic Sinclair, a role model on and off the field, has been the face of Canadian soccer for years — an unassuming star with no taste for the spotlight. But she was front and centre Tuesday, tearing up in a pre-game ceremony that also honoured Schmidt and goalkeeper Erin McLeod.

Quinn, who goes by one name, scored for Canada.

B.C. Place Stadium was renamed Christine Sinclair Place for the night, lit up with neon Canadian flags on the outside.

“Thank you for inspiring all of us,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a pre-game social media post. “Your impact on the game, and on sports in Canada, is something we’ll be celebrating for quite some time.”

Australia, fielding a far stronger squad than the experimental lineup thumped 5-0 Friday in Langford, came forward from the get-go with Canada looking to threaten on the counterattack.

The 10th-ranked Canadians grew into the game as the first half wore on.

Sinclair played a role in Canada’s goal in the 40th minute, heading a Jessie Fleming corner across the goal. The ball went to defender Kadeisha Buchanan whose shot banged off the crossbar. A waiting Quinn headed it home for their sixth goal in 95 Canadian appearances.

Two minutes later, a Sinclair cross almost produced another goal. Canada defender Vanessa Gilles scored minutes later but the goal was called off due to a foul.

Sinclair started up front but, as is her want, routinely moved back to help the defence. She showed a nice touch early, pivoting to keep the ball away from an Australian before passing it to a teammate.

The crowd rose as one in the 12th minute to honour Sinclair, who wears No. 12. Australia almost scored during the ovation, with goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan getting to a loose ball in the penalty box first.

Australia, ranked 11th in the world, came close in the 47th minute with Buchanan heading away a ball destined for goal off a corner. A minute later at the other end, goalkeeper Teagan Micah got to the ball just before an onrushing Sinclair did.

Nichelle Prince almost made it 2-0 in the 66th minute, using her speed to outpace a defender only to put her shot just wide.

Sheridan led Canada out as the teams took the field.

Ten members of the 2012 bronze-medallist team, including Karina LeBlanc, Diana Matheson, Marie-Eve Nault, Carmelina Moscato, Desiree Scott and Melissa Tancredi, formed an honour guard to welcome their three former teammates to the pitch.

McLeod came out first, followed by a beaming Schmidt. Sinclair came out last, accompanied by nieces Kaitlyn and Kenzie to a standing ovation. Sinclair, who seemed to be fighting back tears, tapped her heart in recognition of the welcome.

The three players were presented with framed jerseys by Canada Soccer president Charmaine Crooks and Jason deVos, Canada’s Soccer’s acting general secretary.

“You are truly a national treasure,” said former star speedskater Catriona Le May Doan.

Sinclair wiped her eyes and hugged her nieces, who were crying, after a tribute video played on the giant scoreboard above.

Sinclair’s name was greeted with a roar when the starting lineups were announced over the PA system. And the Canadians exited the field after the warm-up to Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,” part of Sinclair pre-game playlist since her days at the University of Portland.

READ MORE: B.C. declares Dec. 12 Christine Sinclair Day

Sinclair said Sunday she had requested 145 tickets for friend and family — and was running out. Her brother Mike said there were 43 family members alone.

Canada Soccer said the attendance was the largest-ever for a women’s national team friendly in Canada. It was well above the Vancouver Whitecaps MLS attendance record of 30,204 fans at B.C. Place, set a month earlier in a 1-0 playoff loss to Los Angeles FC.

Canada Soccer said it was the seventh-largest crowd ever for a Canadian national soccer team game.

The Canadian women played before an announced crowd of 54,027 at B.C. Place at the 2015 World Cup when they lost 2-1 to England in the quarterfinal. Sinclair, Schmidt and McLeod all started that day.

Sinclair and the Canadians took the pitch for their pre-game warm-up to the sounds of Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love.” Sinclair wore a jersey with No. 13 — Schmidt’s number — while her teammates wore No. 12.

They were plenty more No. 12 jerseys in the stands. And a giant No. 1 and 2 came out before kickoff, flanking a tifo of Sinclair and signs saying “Greatest of all time.”

A pair of bespoke boots arrived earlier in the day for Sinclair from Nike’s Italian factory, complete with the No. 185 — her record-setting goal scored Jan. 29, 2024, in an 11-0 romp over St. Kitts and Nevis at the CONCACAF Olympic Women’s Qualifier in Edinburg, Texas — and other personal details.

Canada Soccer said more than 20 Canada Soccer Hall of Famers and more than 50 former internationals were on hand to witness Sinclair’s farewell.

It was also Schmidt’s final Canada outing — and 226th cap. The midfielder from Abbotsford, B.C., retired from international football after this summer’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand but came back to time her on-field departure with her longtime friend and oft roommate on the road.

The 40-year-old McLeod, who was a spectator Tuesday, retired in January after 119 international appearances.

Sinclair was 16 when she made her senior debut March 12, 2000, in a 4-0 loss to China, opening her senior account two days later in a 2-1 loss to Norway.

In the years since, she has won Olympic gold, bronze and bronze, been named Canada Player of the Year 14 times and played at six World Cups, scoring in five of them.

Sinclair plans to play one more season with her club team, the NWSL’s Portland Thorns. Schmidt (Houston Dash) and McLeod (Iceland’s Stjarnan FC) also plan to continue club football.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press