Mon, Jun 08, 2015 - Page 18 News List

Hosts, Netherlands win openers

DOUBLEHEADER:Canada got off to a winning start thanks to a late penalty, while a Lieke Martens strike condemned New Zealand to a 10th straight finals loss

AFP, EDMONTON, Alberta

China goalkeeper Wang Fei fails to save a penalty by Canada’s Christine Sinclair in their FIFA Women’s World Cup Group A match at the Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, Alberta, on Saturday.

Photo: Jason Franson / The Canadian Press via AP

Christine Sinclair’s controversial late penalty got hosts Canada off to a winning start at the FIFA Women’s World Cup on Saturday with a 1-0 win over China, as the Netherlands beat New Zealand by the same scoreline.

The Group A doubleheader in Edmonton kicked off four weeks of soccer across Canada and was preceded by an opening ceremony in front of a packed and passionate crowd of 53,038 at the Commonwealth Stadium.

The party atmosphere amid a sea of red-and-white flags was complete when 31-year-old Sinclair stepped up two minutes into stoppage-time to slot in a penalty awarded for a foul in the penalty areas on substitute Adriana Leon by Zhao Rong.

It was Canada captain Sinclair’s 154th goal in 224 internationals.

“Only one woman in the world could step up like that in the 90th minute and write that script,” Canada coach John Herdman said. “I’m glad we could sneak a win. We have the three points and are on the road.”

Midfielder Sophie Schmidt, voted player of the match, described Sinclair as an “inspiration.”

“She’s our captain, no doubt about it, and there was no doubt in my mind that she was going to put it away,” Schmidt said. “She’s one of the best strikers in the world, if not the best. It was just an amazing atmosphere out there today and to kick off the World Cup in front of 50,000-plus fans is just something else.”

Canada, the Olympic bronze medalists, had been desperate for all three points to set themselves up as challengers at their home tournament.

For the young China team, nicknamed the Steel Roses, it was a first defeat in their opening match of a World Cup.

The hosts started strongly when centerback Kadeisha Buchanan had two early shots at the back post, but both were blocked by goalkeeper Wang Fei, with her opposite number Erin McLeod then blocking a shot by Yasha Gu, with a Wang Lisi effort hitting the post.

However, just as the match seemed certain to end in stalemate, Zhao fouled substitute Leon and Sinclair slotted the penalty home to the delight of the crowd.

Herdman claimed that China seemed to be playing for a draw, with goalkeeper Wang jeered several times by the crowd as she appeared to take her time over goal-kicks.

“The Chinese came for a draw and were killing time in the first 20 minutes of the game,” he said.

China coach Hao Wei refused to be drawn on that or the harsh penalty.

“It’s a real pity, but we’re here to play the game,” Hao said. “We respect the referee’s judgement. Whether it was a foul or not we’ll have to watch the video replay. I think within two days we will be able to regroup mentally to be able to challenge in our next games. I have no doubt about that.”

In Saturday’s second match, Lieke Martens gave newcomers the Netherlands their first World Cup finals goal, condemning New Zealand to a 10th defeat in as many games spanning three editions of the tournament.

Martens’ superb 33rd-minute strike from outside the penalty area was her 21st goal for the Oranje Leeuwinnen.

It left Erin Nayler, 22, with no chance in the New Zealand goal.

“It’s a dream come true,” 22-year-old Martens said. “As a girl you dream of scoring a goal at the World Cup.”

New Zealand coach Tony Readings put the result down to “one piece of brilliance from a player we knew would be a problem.”

The Netherlands, playing in their first ever World Cup finals, next face China, with New Zealand facing Canada on Thursday.

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