When the final whistle sounded on that night at the Ibaraki Kashima stadium, Canadian players could not believe what they had done.
Cue the celebrations in the changing room except for one Christine Sinclair. She sat alone on the pitch as the players exited the field.
She could easily be mistaken as a player on the losing side. But for once, she was on the other end of the stick. She had captained Canada to a narrow 1-0 victory over their fierce counterparts, the USA, after an historic run at the Tokyo Olympics.
But, let’s look back at the previous Olympic games where these two have met.
Cast your mind to this scene. Shanghai Stadium – the US take an early lead through Angela Hucles in the quarter-finals. Then the rain came in droves with lightning as a bonus, meaning the game stopped for more than an hour.
When play resumed in the 21st minute, it took just nine minutes for the Canucks to find their equaliser, courtesy of captain Sinclair’s long range effort.
The game tied at 1-1. Canada put up a solid defensive display immediately going into block in a bid to keep the USA at bay. This was until the match went into extra time where heart-break awaited the Canadians.
Natasha Kai produced a diving header in the 101st minute, meeting Shannon Boxx’s delivery to put it past Karina LeBlanc. A win that would send the US on their way to the semis at the expense of their neighbours on that rain-soaked ground in Shanghai.
London Olympics 2012. This time, Canada met the USA at Old Trafford, eager to exert revenge for their disappointing end four years prior. This time, the two foes met in the semi-finals and went on to produce an all-time classic.
Once again ‘Captain Sincy’ was on the score-sheet, beating Hope Solo to open the scoring in the 22nd minute, before Megan Rapinoe curled one in past Erin McLeod.
In the 67th minute, Sinclair put the Canadians ahead with a header but then three minutes later, were pegged back by Rapinoe with another long-range effort just outside the box.
Sinclair claimed her hat-trick in the 73rd minute with yet another header which would have been game over. But then the US were awarded an indirect free-kick.
Rapinoe took the set-piece which glanced off Marie Eve-Nault, giving them a penalty and the chance to draw level for the third time that afternoon. Up stepped Abby Wambach to draw them level.
In the additional extra time, Alex Morgan’s header from Heather O’Reilly’s cross pinged off the inside of the crossbar into the back of the net to the disbelief of the Canucks. Once again, a header in extra time took them out.
You can imagine the pain for Sinclair who had scored a hat-trick only to end up on the losing side again.
And so the year is 2021 – the Tokyo Olympic semi-finals.
Before the game, the head-to-head record heavily favoured the United States – 51 wins, three losses and seven draws. But in matchups such as this, the record doesn’t come into play. Another chance for Sinclair and her team to get one over on their arch-rivals.
The game was poised to go into extra time for the third time, up until Canada won a penalty in the 72nd minute. Tierna Davidson brought down substitute Deane Rose in the box, and after consultation with the VAR, the referee awarded the penalty.
Young Jessie Fleming stepped up to coolly dispatch the pivotal penalty which would become the winner.
The USA threw everything at Bev Priestman’s Canada, but they couldn’t get anything past Stephanie Labbe.
A rock solid display from Ashley Lawrence and Vanessa Gilles saw Canada keep the American attack at bay. The Canadians could feel that this time the result would be different. And for sure it was. There was no heart-break for them at the Ibaraki Kashima stadium as they managed to hold on to the 1-0 lead and make it into the final.
Finally, it had been done. And for all those present in that moment, none was as joyed with the win as Christine Sinclair. The all-time leading goal-scorer at the international stage for both men and women. She finally had the chance to win the gold medal she and the Canadian team so deserved.
Canada went on to beat a fancied Sweden in the final to claim the gold medal, which had eluded them for years and it couldn’t have been any sweeter.