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Butler: Olympics calling for Sinclair as London beckons

Noel Butler
7/15/2012 1:58:49 PM
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A little over 12 months ago an emotionally bruised and football battered Women's National Team were in the elementary stages of coming to terms with a World Cup campaign that was a disaster both on and off the pitch.

The historians will record the seeds of doubt were sown four months before that opening 2-1 reversal on June 26th at the hands of the hosts and the then World Champion Germans with a very public feud between the governing body and a team that as a bargaining tool announced a willingness back in early February 2011 to go on strike in support of their beleaguered coach Carolina Morace.

"We can compete now with the world's best. And it's something we haven't been able to do in the past. And now to have this coach threaten to leave, we can't let her just go. We have a shot at something great," was what captain Christine Sinclair told the Canadian Press back then.

We all know now that shot at greatness completely misfired.

Four days after slumping off the pitch in Dresden following the reversal at the hands of Nigeria in their final group match Sinclair was back stateside scoring for her club side the Western New York Flash in a WPS fixture.

Exactly a year removed just this past Monday, Sinclair was scoring the winner, a record breaking 135th international goal, against Columbia during a tune up in Switzerland for the London Olympics.

On the eve of tomorrow's penultimate fixture before July 25th's Olympic opener against Japan, the current World Champions Sinclair closed the book on Deutschand 2011 when telling TSN.ca there was little relevance between what happened then and what London holds.

"I honestly don't think that much. We've got a new coach, a new team and it's a new tournament. It was an experience we don't want to go through again. As a team we have moved on"

With a mere six sleeps left before the team touches down in London, Sinclair is of the firm belief the team are chomping at the bit to put the adversities of Germany to their advantage as the team continue their progress back to full football recovery under the quite excellent John Herdman. The young Englishman recruited by the CSA in the wake of the Morace World Cup fiasco.

"I actually think we feel less pressure because of last year. I think heading into the World Cup we'd been doing so well and people you know ourselves included expected us to do some great things. Bit this time round the expectations from the outside are less and as a team we fell less pressure".

Sinclair completely dismisses out of hand any additional pressure she may feel that comes with being one of the greatest women's players to ever lace them up. "I don't really feel the pressure, I just go out and play. Obviously the Olympics are a big deal, the world cup is a big deal but I just go out and try to play like it was any other game. I think if you get caught in a thought oh my God it's the Olympics, this is the World Cup I don't know I think I'd go crazy"

Canada's rivals in the group stage at the Olympics draw eerie comparisons to last year's World Cup group of death opponents - none more so when it gets underway than with their opening tilt with the World Champions.

This time though, Canada won't have the additional burden of having to play Japan in their own back yard. "Just the fact we've experienced it before you know. This game against Japan is going to be a little bit different. It's not going to be played in Japan. I think the crowd will be there to watch a good football match, not necessarily just to cheer for Japan," was Sinclair's take.

"We know that, like we did against Germany, if we perform well we can compete with the best teams in the world and obviously Japan being one of them. It's not going to be new to us we've played huge opening games in tournaments before"

Canada's group stage schedule demands three matches within a week, mercifully with little travel required and is one Sinclair's squad wholeheartedly accepts as part of their Olympic journey. "Obviously it's one we willingly accept, we can't change it but ideally you play every four or five days in soccer that's the way it's done in most leagues around the world. But at the same time it's a tournament and same thing what the men do in EURO's and things like that."

Ahead of meeting up with the squad to fly to their current Swiss base Sinclair was thoroughly captured by events in Poland – Ukraine. No surprises it was a fellow goal scorer of epic proportions that the Burnaby native focused her attention on.

"I'm going to get killed now I'm a huge Fernando Torres fan. He sits on the bench and wins the Golden Boot you can't argue with that"

One of Canadian sport's most inspirational captains is not only at the top of her game and one of the few players in world football that puts considerable bums on seats – on the basis of her response to the question if she preferred a World Cup over an Olympic Games a career in the diplomatic ranks awaits.

"They're both unique and both so special. The world cup is obviously for soccer it's the biggest tournament but for the Olympics are a completely different beast."

"There is something very special about representing your country at the Olympics. Just to be there with all your fellow athletes no matter what sport they are participating in and been able to cheer for them and celebrate their successes you don't get that opportunity very often"

Prior to the Olympics comes two final warm up matches beginning with New Zealand tomorrow. A country with an identity similar to Canada's and the nation Herdman took to last summer's World Cup. It's an encounter Canada is relishing.

"New Zealand is an up and coming team. I think it's going to be an interesting game. The history and the connection between the 2 teams I think the game will mean a lot more to John because as players we are obviously using the game as a preparation game for the Olympics. Hopefully we can make our coach proud and beat them"

Canada's final match before flying to London July 18th is against Brazil next Tuesday. When the squad arrives in London Herdman has given the girls a 48-hour grace period that will allow them to absorb one of the world's greatest cities ahead of the immensity that awaits. "Besides the orientation we have to do and kit pick up we have to do to get our Canada stuff I believe John's actually sort of letting us explore so a few of us are planning some tourist activities"

Herdman celebrates a 37th birthday the day after their London arrival. One wonders what London tourist activities Sinclair has planned on July 19th for a coach that's truly put immense belief back into a squad that was so psychologically demoralized when he took charge last fall.

Throughout the course of our conversation it's clearly evident Sinclair is an individual who is entirely at ease – jovial her middle name.

Although her career has taken her away from her BC roots for extended periods there's no escaping the Burnaby light that shines so brightly for her. Looking to better Beijing's quarter-final finish will come with the added incentive of a family and friends reunion. "A few of them have joked that if we're in the medals they'll fly over for that but I don't know about that one'

Well before that is reason why so much effort was put into January's quite exceptional Olympic qualifiers staged back home in Vancouver, the London Olympics themselves.

Over 10,000 athletes from around the globe competing in 39 different sporting disciplines with the football tournament for our Women's National Team beginning in Coventry 48-hours ahead of the formal ceremonies opening the London Olympics exactly two weeks today.

Canada's encounter with Japan is likely a match Sinclair has been waiting for since Dresden last summer but it's not one that she's yet imagining in her exceptional football mind. "I don't even know, I haven't even really thought about it in terms of that. This team has been all about the preparation and the processing of getting to that game."

"I think once we arrive into England I'll start thinking about that game."

Noel Butler

Noel Butler


Noel Butler is an analyst for TSN's soccer coverage and his blog can be read on TSN.ca. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/TheSoccerNoel and listen to his radio program oranges@halftime on TSN Radio 690 Montreal.

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