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Prince scores twice as Canada thumps Australia in Sinclair’s penultimate game

Canada dominated from the get-go and went ahead in the 10th minute
Canada’s Simi Awujo avoids a tackle by Australia’s Courtney Nevin during first half soccer action at Starlight Stadium in Langford, B.C., on Friday, December 1, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

Nichelle Prince scored twice as Canada thumped an experimental Australia lineup 5-0 Friday in Christine Sinclair’s penultimate international game.

The 10th-ranked Canadians had their way with the 11th-ranked Matildas on a wet night. Cloe Lacasse, Simi Awujo and Adriana Leon also scored for Canada, which led 2-0 at the half.

Canada coach Bev Priestman liked plenty of what she saw but said she still wants more consistency and a bit more killer instinct.

“We’ve got to put our foot on the throttle more often,” she said.

Sinclair, the world’s all-time leading scorer with 190 goals, came on in the 63rd minute for her 330th cap with Canada up 5-0.

The 40-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., was honoured before the game with her two nieces presenting her with a commemorative jersey. There was also a presentation marking B.C. designating Dec. 12 Christine Sinclair Day.

READ MORE: B.C. declares Dec. 12 Christine Sinclair Day

Sinclair will call time on her international career against the same opposition Tuesday in her backyard before a crowd of 41,000-plus at B.C. Place Stadium, which is being renamed Christine Sinclair Place for the night.

A gala celebration in Sinclair’s honour, complete with a performance by Dallas Smith, is planned the next night at the same venue.

Canada dominated from the get-go and went ahead in the 10th minute when Prince dispossessed captain Clare Polkinghorne in the Australian penalty box and beat goalkeeper Teagan Micah with a low shot to the corner.

Prince, Leon and Vanessa Gilles had good scoring chances as the first half wore on. Prince made it 2-0 in the 42nd minute, redirecting a low Ashley Lawrence cross for her 16th goal for Canada.

It could have been 5-0 by halftime. Jordyn Huitema came on for Prince at the break.

Lacasse made it 3-0 in the 49th, pilfering the ball from an Australian defender and steaming into the penalty box before beating Micah with a low shot.

Awujo added to the lead six minutes later with a left-footed shot from just outside the penalty box. It was a first Canadian goal for the 20-year-old University of Southern California midfielder, in her eighth Canada game.

Leon made it 5-0 in the 62nd minute with a header — her 31st goal for Canada — as the Australian defence was carved open again.

Sophie Schmidt, who is also bowing out Tuesday, came on late in the game for her 225th cap. Sinclair had a chance in the 71st minute but Micah got to the ball just before she did.

Australian coach Tony Gustavsson brought on more experienced players late in the game, with the outcome already decided.

“We were willing to risk a result,” said Gustavsson. “Not that we wanted to lose but we were willing to look at players tonight and it cost us.”

It was the first meeting of the two teams since co-host Australia ended Canada’s World Cup with a humbling 4-0 win July 31 in Melbourne. That defeat consigned Canada to third place in Group B and a trip home while Australia went on to finish fourth.

Gustavsson said prior to the Langford game that he was using it to see new talent in camp.

“It’s maybe not about winning a game but winning a player,” he said.

Australia will be fielding “two completely different lineups” in the Canada series, he added.

Gustavsson was true to his word. His starting 11 Friday featured none of the starters from the World Cup game with Canada although it did feature seven of the subs from the Melbourne meeting. Defender Charlie Rule and midfielder Sarah Hunter made their debuts for the Matildas.

Canada fielded six starters from the Melbourne meeting in its starting lineup.

Friday’s game was played at a sold-out Starlight Stadium, home to the CPL’s Pacific FC and Rugby Canada, some 15 kilometres west of Victoria. The attendance was announced at 6,102, a record for a soccer game at the venue.

It was a damp seven degrees Celsius, feeling like five degrees at game time. The rain started minutes before the evening kickoff.

Midfielder Jessie Fleming continued as Canada captain, leading out a starting lineup with a combined 676 caps. Fleming, Kadeisha Buchanan, Lawrence and Leon accounted for 486 of those.

Kailen Sheridan was a late replacement in the Canadian goal, with Sabrina D’Angelo feeling unwell.

Both teams were missing players through injury.

Canada was without forward Evelyne Viens, midfielders Julia Grosso, Emma Regan and Desiree Scott and forward Deanne Rose. Forward Janine Beckie is in camp but still rehabbing a knee injury.

The Matildas were missing captain/star forward Sam Kerr, goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold, defender Charlotte Grant and forward Holly McNamara.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press