EDMONTON (Reuters) - Canada scored a heart-stopping injury time win over China to kick off the Women’s World Cup on Saturday as the spotlight returned to action on the field after a deflating week of scandal away from the pitch.
Christine Sinclair sent a capacity crowd at a sun-kissed Commonwealth Stadium home happy by slotting the winning spot kick in a 1-0 victory over China.
The Dutch were also celebrating after the Netherlands made a winning World Cup debut with a 1-0 victory over New Zealand.
But the biggest winners on the day were the fans who basked in the excitement and joy the ‘beautiful game’ can create rather than dwell on the dreary details of a corruption bribery scandal that has engulfed the sport’s governing body, FIFA.
“It was an amazing atmosphere to kick off this World Cup in front of 50,000-plus fans, I‘m so proud of our team,” said Canadian midfielder Sophie Schmidt, who was named player of the match. “There was never a doubt that game was going to get away from us.”
While the World Cup got off to a rousing start, it is unclear if the scandals and controversy have had an impact on the tournament that will conclude with a championship game on July 5 in Vancouver.
The Canadian Soccer Association announced that close to a million tickets had been sold for games at the six venues across the country and while it remains an impressive number, it falls well short of the 1.5 million organizers have targeted.
The biggest event in women’s sport, the World Cup was far from the only show in town.
While the sporting world stops for the men’s World Cup, for the women’s tournament it barely slows down.
The Formula One Grand Prix of Canada, a Stanley Cup playoff game, a Triple Crown winner in thoroughbred racing and golfer Tiger Woods’ nightmare round all grabbed a chunk of the Saturday North American sport spotlight.
A superb Champions League final in Berlin between Juventus and Barcelona also satisfied much of the soccer appetite.
With the wider soccer world caught in the grip of a corruption and bribery scandal, grabbing attention has proven a challenge for the women’s showcase.
The Women’s World Cup has not been touched directly by the scandal but the questions and media’s search for answers hung over the tournament buildup like a dark cloud.
A controversy over the use of artificial turf that triggered a lawsuit and claims of discrimination by a group of unhappy players also lingered as Canada and China took to the plastic pitch.
In the end it was a column by Globe and Mail columnist Cathal Kelly bashing Edmonton as an unfit venue for the prestigious kick off that provided the greatest outrage in the host nation.
But scandals big and small evaporated in the roar of the largest Canadian crowd for a national team soccer game as 53,058 filled a sun-kissed Commonwealth Stadium, topping the 51,136 that watched the Canadian men draw 1-1 with Brazil 21 years ago in Edmonton.
“Three points, Canada is on a roll,” beamed Canada coach John Herdman. “Good start, three points in the bag, exactly where we want to be.”
Editing by Ian Ransom