It wasn't the prettiest of efforts, but Canada's women's team opened its 2013 calendar year with a 1-0 win over their Yongchuan Cup hosts China. The Chinese were relentless in their attack, even coming close to breaking the early deadlock, while forcing keeper Erin McLeod into a number of very difficult saves. It was looking very dicey for a while, with Lauren Sesselmann at central defense having a bad day at the office as the Chinese ran amok, and the Canadians placed firmly in the backfoot.
But it would be new Boston Breaker Adriana Leon, in her first match with the senior team, who would break Chinese hearts with a 75th minute strike. Intercepting a pass at midfield, Leon pushed two defenders to the edge of the penalty area before unleashing a rocket that Chinese keeper Zheng Yu simply could not save. That scoreline would hold true as the hosts could not muster a response. "It felt really good to get my first goal in my first game, but I'm just more happy with how the team played. I think it was a good start for the young players." Leon said in post-match interviews.
The Canadians, captained by Diana Matheson in the enforced absence of Christine Sinclair, finally awoke after the goal, as shortly after another first capper, Nichelle Prince, almost doubled Canada's happiness, taking a pass from Robyn Gayle, but could only send the effort wide.
The team was trying out a new style and were of course lacking talisman Sinclair, who is serving a four-game FIFA suspension for an incident at the Olympics that has yet to be disclosed. Coach John Herdman was not surprised there was a bit of rust showing in the first half, saying "I didn't think we'd come this far today, China probably could've had a few goals in the first half, but second half we took the performance."
With a win under their belts, the Canadian squad now face South Korea on Monday. You can see the highlights of today's game below (courtesy Canada Soccer TV):