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Saturday, July 2, 2011

Captain Christine Sinclair stands up for disappointing World Cup effort

Canada's striker Christine Sinclair sits on the pitch after the group A match of the FIFA women's football World Cup Canada vs France on June 30, 2011 in Bochum, western Germany.

Canada's striker Christine Sinclair sits on the pitch after the group A match of the FIFA women's football World Cup Canada vs France on June 30, 2011 in Bochum, western Germany.

Photograph by: PATRIK STOLLARZ, AFP/Getty Images

BOCHUM, Germany - Captains do not take refuge in lifeboats. They do not save themselves, clinging desperately to any convenient wreckage floating in the debris field of a unforgiving sea.
"When it came time to win a game, we couldn't do it,'' said Christine Sinclair, captain of Canada's national women's soccer team, out front of the team hotel facing the media as the Canadian FIFA bus pulled away for Friday training. "We didn't perform.
"Bottom line.
"No excuses.
"It came down to the players.''
The 2011 FIFA women's World Cup may not technically be over for Canada, not with surprisingly stubborn Nigeria scheduled for Tuesday, but the autopsying has begun.
Being out with one match to play and lugging the worst goal differential in the tournament around like a Steinway grand piano isn't what anyone had projected for this group as it headed to Dresden on Friday.
This - now - was supposed to be only the beginning. Not nearing the end.
"You're representing your country every time you put that jersey on,'' said Sinclair of the 'meaningless' Tuesday match. "You want to do your best, be proud of where you come from.
"We have to go out against Nigeria and show that game against France isn't us.''
Proud words. But there's going to be a lot of soul-searching inside this program in the next little while, about both method and direction.
Coach Carolina Morace's philosophical squabbles with the Canadian Soccer Association have been well documented. That uneasy relationship certainly won't be strengthened by another three-and-out World Cup, particularly when the lady had many of her pre-tournament demands grudgingly met, and anticipation had never been higher for a breakout tournament.
They arrived here as a tight-knit, single-focus group, but whenever things go awry in spectacular fashion, cracks in any foundation can begin to appear.
Morace is contracted through next year's London Olympics. But she clearly wants total control, and that's going to be much harder to come by now, leaving you to wonder if there might not be a re-think, by either or both parties.
Weirder things have happened in the wake of a premature World Cup exit.
And still on the subject of Italy. . . . The Colosseum lit at night is a staggeringly beautiful sight, and Rome as a whole a sumptuous repast, but it isn't, well, home, whether that be Saskatoon, Sask., Ajax, Ont., or Baie d'Urfe, Que.
Being away from comfortable surroundings, from loved ones and friends, for months at a time can be a workable sacrifice - if there's tickertape flying and a brass band playing at the end.
The Canadian players who moved their lives to Italy for four months did so on the high expectation of a bright new tomorrow. Instead, they wound up with just another overcast yesterday. Many of them may be privately re-thinking committing to such a tactic again.
Sinclair, however, believes the concept is imperative, at least in the lead-up to London 2012 qualifying.
"For the Olympics, absolutely. Most leagues finish in the fall. And we need to be together as much as possible heading into those games in Vancouver (in January).''
So much to do. So little time.
Against France, Canadian shortcomings were cruelly exposed. Glacial at the back. Too Sinclair dependent for goals. Unable, despite Morace's emphasis on ball possession and individual flair, to match French technical skill, organization or creative ideas.
"Once the first goal went in, we sort of panicked,'' admitted Sinclair. "I think everyone's a little emotional right now, assuming the worst, thinking the worst.''
In the wake of the comeuppance, Morace repeated the imperative need to establish a women's professional league in Canada in order for the national team to move forward.
Well, good luck with that.
There's more chance of long-lost records showing that Marta was, in fact, born in Squamish, B.C., not Dois Raichos, Brazil.
"Obviously we don't have the ideal situation,'' acknowledged Sinclair. "We're the only country, I think, that did a residency heading into this World Cup and ideally your players are playing in some sort of league close to home, where your coach can monitor how you're doing.
"But we've never had a ton of support, in terms of that, and we've managed to come this far. It's not an excuse.
"We just had a tough night.''
Every which way imaginable. The sight of the influential No. 12 ripping off that accursed mask after a ricochet rocketed up and cracked her in the nose pretty much summed up Canada's Thursday of Reality.
"I don't think any extra damage was done,'' she sighed. "Another shiner. I think we're good to go (for Nigeria).
"It's the one thing I feared heading into the game. All I was worried about was closing down a defender and them kicking the ball up into my face.
"And, of course, it happened.
"I thought maybe I'd re-broken it. But then I took my mask off and I was fine.''
For Christine Sinclair, the best player on her team and an uncomfortable spokesman for the game in her country, there was no taking refuge in lifeboats the morning after.
No lamenting being drawn into a hellish group. No outright blaming the lack of a women's league in Canada for the almost insolent way French insouciance cut them into tiny bits. No cursing tight offside calls of bemoaning bad luck.
Captains, the good ones, choose to go down with their ship.

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