Canada’s women’s soccer team kicked off its 2019 World Cup preparations with a 1-0 win over Norway in La Manga, Spain on Tuesday. Captain Christine Sinclair scored in the 66th minute for her 178th international goal.
This was the first official game for Canada in 2019. They also played Switzerland in a training match last week, which ended in a 0-0 draw.
The Canadians, ranked fifth in the world, are gearing up for this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in France.
Canada will play its first group game of the World Cup against Cameroon on June 10. Playing out of Group E, the Canadians will also face New Zealand and the Netherlands.
The Canadians had several moments of sustained pressure in the final third against the 13th-ranked Norwegians, but not many shots on target. That changed in the 66th minute. Five minutes after subbing into the game, Jenna Hellstrom sent in a cross from the left wing into the area. Sinclair connected on a header to the low corner past a diving Ingrid Hjelmseth.
Sinclair is now six goals shy of tying American Abby Wambach’s all-time scoring record of 184. The Canadian had eight goals last year, including four in October during World Cup qualifying.
It was also a big moment for 23-year-old Hellstrom, who made just her second appearance with the national team. The Sudbury, Ont., native last played for Canada in the 2018 Algarve Cup, where she also earned her first career start. Hellstrom, who plays with Växjö DFF in Sweden, looked strong as soon as she hit the pitch, creating several offensive chances.
Stephanie Labbé made many key saves to record her 25th career clean sheet for Canada. In the 15thminute, Caroline Graham Hansen slipped in behind Canada’s backline, but Labbé was able to deflect the low shot away with her left foot. Then just over 10 minutes later, the Canadian keeper denied Emilie Haavi with a diving save at the near post.
Norway did beat Labbé early in the first half, but the goal was immediately waved off for a foul in the area.
Although Labbé has been named to two previous World Cup rosters, she has yet to see any playing time at the tournament. This will be her first World Cup as the team’s No. 1 goalkeeper.
Midfielder Julia Grosso, 18, made her fifth career start for the senior team, with four of those coming since last October. Fellow teenager Jordyn Huitema, 17, made her 16th appearance after subbing into the game in the second half. Huitema recently made an impact as captain of Canada’s Under-17 team at the 2018 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup last November. She led the team with three goals in five matches and helped Canada to its best-ever fourth-place finish.
The Canadians were without veteran midfielder Diana Matheson, who remained home to rehab an injury.
Canada played in a fluid 4-2-3-1 formation, with midfielder Jessie Fleming playing in more of an attacking role than she has in the past. Head coach Kenneth Heiner-Møller has previously said he wants Fleming to play closer to goal.
This is the second straight win for Canada over the Norwegians. Before 2017, the Canadians had never beaten Norway in 11 previous meetings. The Norwegians have historically dominated Canada, but all eight of their wins were from 1990 to 2007.
Canada will take part in the Algarve Cup for a fourth straight year in February. Although the squad is coming off a disappointing fifth-place finish in 2018, the Canadians won the Cup in 2016 and were runners-up to Spain the following year.
Canada will kick off the tournament against Iceland on Feb. 27 before facing Scotland on March 1. They will play one more match on March 6 to determine the team's final ranking.