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EDMONTON (Reuters) - An injury time goal by Christine Sinclair from the penalty spot lifted Canada to a nail-biting 1-0 win over China on Saturday to get the Women's World Cup off to an electrifying start.
Canada coach John Herdman had declared on the eve of the opener anything less than victory would be a disappointment and Sinclair made sure the capacity crowd of 53,058 went home happy when she coolly slotted home a low shot to the right corner.
"That's what we wanted, the three points, that was the most important part," a beaming Herdman told reporters.
"In the 90th minute, cometh the moment, cometh the woman, outstanding from Christine Sinclair.
"The pressure on, there's only one woman in the world who can get up and do that."
Canada had dominated much of the play but could not crack the Chinese wall until Adriana Leon was brought down heavily by Zhao Rong in the box. The referee immediately pointed to the spot.
There was no doubt who would take the shot.
Canada's all-time leading scorer Sinclair, who made her national debut when she was 16 and has been a cornerstone of the team ever since, notched her 154th international goal. Only Americans Abby Wambach and Mia Hamm have scored more.
"When it was called, the first thing that went through my head was, I'm taking this," said Sinclair. "I've been practising my whole life for that moment.
"I'd be lying to you if I said I wasn't nervous, the opening game of the World Cup, 50,000 fans with the game on the line, it's nerve-wracking but I live for those moments."
Canada dominated possession throughout, particularly in a choppy opening half but it was China that generated the better scoring chances with Gu Yasha forcing Erin McLeod to come off her line to make a diving save.
A minute later Wang Lisi sent a shudder through Canada's largest crowd to watch a national team soccer match when her free kick rattled off the crossbar and post.
Once one of soccer's dominant nations, China took a silver at the 1999 World Cup and again at the 1996 Olympics but failed to qualify for the last World Cup and the 2012 London Olympics.
A determined display by the 'Steel Roses', however, suggests that 16th-ranked China may yet be factor in Canada.
"Overall I was very happy, I believe our next match will be even better," said China coach Hao Wei. "It is indeed a pity but I believe that within two days we can adjust our mindset to our best state."
Editing by Gene Cherry/Ian Ransom