Canada women's soccer team poses for photo pre gameAP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo
AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo

Team Canada draws 1-1 with Japan in women’s soccer opener

Captain Christine Sinclair got Canada off to a hot start, but a late strike levelled things for the Tokyo 2020 hosts on Wednesday.

Playing in her 300th game for Canada, Sinclair scored in just the sixth minute of play at the Sapporo Dome, slotting home her own rebound from close range. It was her 187th international goal, the most of any player in the sport’s history, and allowed Canada to play a confident and composed style for the remainder of the first half.

Christine Sinclair scores goal
Canada’s Christine Sinclair (12) scores a goal against Japan at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Wednesday, July 21, 2021, in Sapporo, Japan. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

That dynamic was shaken up just a few minutes into the second half, however, when Canadian goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé slid out to prevent a scoring chance by Japan’s Mina Tanaka. The referee initially awarded Canada a free kick, based on heavy contact between the players and an apparent injury to Labbé.

After the use of video review, however, the referee awarded Japan a penalty kick. Labbé stayed in the game long enough to dramatically save Tanaka’s penalty-kick effort, but needed to be replaced by Kailen Sheridan shortly thereafter.

Canada thought they’d scored a second goal in the 60th minute when Janine Beckie put the ball in the back of the Japanese net, but the play was judged to be offside.

The defensive line held firm until the 84th minute, when Japanese striker Mana Iwabuchi got onto the end of a long ball and looped a shot into the corner, beyond Sheridan’s reach.

Japan's Mina Tanaka falls on top of Canadian goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe's head following a collision.
Japan’s Mina Tanaka collides with Canada’s goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe during a women’s soccer match at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Wednesday, July 21, 2021, in Sapporo, Japan. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

Canadian head coach Bev Priestman pressed for the win, bringing on a trio of attack-minded players (Deanne Rose, Adriana Leon and Evelyne Viens) in the latter stages of the second half. Despite a frantic finish during the eight minutes of stoppage time, neither team was able to find a winner.

“It was good to get ahead early,” Sinclair said after the match. “I thought we played pretty well at the start of the game but, yeah, it’s a shame we couldn’t hold onto the three points.”

With Great Britain defeating Chile 2-0 on Wednesday, Canada sits in third place in Group E, with two group-stage games left. The top two teams in each of the three groups, plus the top two third-place finishers, qualify for the quarterfinals.

“It’s all about the quick turnaround, so, recovery starts now,” said Sinclair. “We have to recover better than our opponents.”

Canada is looking for a third straight podium finish after earning bronze at both London 2012 and Rio 2016, and Sinclair noted that a sub-optimal start hasn’t derailed the team in the past. In London, Canada lost its opening match (coincidentally, also against Japan) but would go on to claim the country’s first-ever medal in women’s soccer.

Up next for Canada is Chile on Saturday at 3:30 a.m. ET, followed by Great Britain on July 27 at 7 a.m. ET. Despite the lost points against Japan and the uncertainty of their No. 1 goalkeeper’s injury status, Canada has everything yet to play for.

“Anything can happen,” said Sinclair. “We take the point off the host country and we move on.”