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Canada edges Cameroon in Women’s World Cup opener | The Star

MONTPELLIER, FRANCE—Canada overcame some early tournament jitters and a stubborn Cameroon defence to win its Women’s World Cup opener 1-0 Monday.

Centre back Kadeisha Buchanan came to the rescue with a towering leap to head in the deciding goal on the eve of halftime. The relief was palpable for the fifth-ranked Canadians as they nosed ahead of the 46th-ranked Indomitable Lionesses.

“We’ll have to have cleaner, better performances than that in the next two games,” said forward Janine Beckie, who delivered the corner that Buchanan headed down off the turf and into the net.

“Higher-quality opponents coming up. Credit to Cameroon. I think they gave us a great game.”

Midfielder Sophie Schmidt chose to focus on the end-result.

“Obviously, you still want to win and perform well, but we got the three points, we got the shutout. Rest easy.”

Captain Christine Sinclair also saw the bigger picture.

“Once we settled down we had the better of the play throughout the whole game. It was just a matter of whether we would put one in or not and we did,” she said.

“It would have been nice to put a couple more in, but we’ll take the three points,” she added.

Canada now heads 295 kilometres northeast to Grenoble where it faces New Zealand on Saturday. The 19th-ranked Football Ferns open Tuesday against the eighth-ranked Netherlands.

Monday’s game drew a modest 10,710 to Stade de la Mosson, but pockets of enthusiastic supporters from both sides made their presence felt and produced a good atmosphere.

The first-half storyline was Canada trying to play the ball and a physical Cameroon looking to stop it. The Africans strung five defenders in a line behind a holding midfielder when Canada had the ball, looking to win it back and send a long ball to a pacey forward.

On defence, Cameroon took no prisoners with some hard-nosed play.

At times, the Canadians seemed in search of perfection when a shot on target would have done nicely.

“Sometimes a little too cute with (the ball),” Schmidt acknowledged.

The breakthrough finally came in the 45th minute. Buchanan, like an Exocet missile, came steaming through the penalty box at the far post, flying through the air for her fourth goal in 89 career matches — and her first since February 2016.

“What a header. What a ball by Janine,” said Sinclair. “Just quality all-round.”

Canada had 65 per cent of possession and 10 corners to Cameroon’s four, outshooting the Africans 10-4 (4-1 on target).

A measure of Canada’s dominance was shown in the game’s passing statistics. The Canadians completed 469 of 583 passes (80 per cent), while Cameroon was good on 101 of 189 (53 per cent).

Cameroon’s five-woman backline surprised Canada, given the Africans had not used the formation in recent games.

Still, in a game short on goals, Cameroon, which changed its formation in search of more offence in the second half, had its chance to pull even. Claudine Meffometou almost had a replay of Buchanan’s goal in the 70th minute but her header off a corner was just wide.

There were no surprises with the Canadian lineup with goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe behind a back four of Allysha Chapman, Buchanan, Shelina Zadorsky and Ashley Lawrence. Desiree Scott served as holding midfielder with Schmidt and Jessie Fleming behind a front three of Sinclair, Beckie and Nichelle Prince.

Sinclair, who turns 36 on Wednesday, became Canada’s oldest player to feature at a World Cup. The star striker from Burnaby, B.C., at her fifth World Cup, is three goals from tying retired American Abby Wambach’s world record of 184.

Sinclair had chances late in the game to add to her record. A header and shot went wide before she came close in a goalmouth melee, only to have the ball bounce away in a mass of bodies.

Canada’s starting 11 came into the game with a combined total of 1,120 caps, with Sinclair, Schmidt and Scott accounting for 609 of those. Coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller was able to field a squad with Prince the least experienced starter at 50 caps.

Still Canada took some time to settle.

“We need more than a few minutes to get the jitters, the nervousness out,” said Heiner-Moller.

Labbe, Zadorsky, Prince and Beckie were all making their World Cup debuts.

“Coming out it was a bit nerve-wracking, I’m not going to lie. The past couple of weeks have been pretty stressful,” said Labbe, who was at the last two tournaments but did not see action.

The Canadian women remain unbeaten in 2019 with a 6-0-3 record. The team’s last loss was a 2-0 setback at the hands of the top-ranked U.S. last October in the CONCACAF Women’s Championship final.

While Canada’s defence has been solid since that loss, goals have been hard to come by. Canada outscored its opposition 9-1 in the nine games since the U.S. defeat.

It was the first meeting between Canada and Cameroon.

The Indomitable Lionesses booked their ticket to France by finishing third at the Africa Women Cup of Nations last November. Ten of their 11 starters Monday play their club soccer abroad.

Monday’s loss means all three African entries have dropped their openers. Nigeria and South Africa, who finished 1-2 in Africa qualifying, lost 3-0 to No. 12 Norway and 3-1 to No. 13 Spain, respectively.

Cameroon reached the group of 16 in its debut at the World Cup, losing 1-0 to France four years ago in Canada. The Canadian women exited in the quarterfinals after a 2-1 loss to England.

Canada improved its record against African opponents at the tournament to 2-1-1, having defeated Ghana (4-0 in 2007) and drawn and lost to Nigeria (3-3 in 1995 and beaten 1-0 in 2011).

Stade de la Mosson was built in 1972 and expanded to 35,000 seats ahead of the 1998 men’s World Cup. But for this tournament, one of the main stands has had the upper seats covered in decorative tarps to reduce capacity.

Gussied up by tournament organizers, it looked pretty good from the inside and ancient from the outside.

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