Canada players including Christine Sinclair (holding ball) celebrate their win against Sweden during the women’s soccer gold medal game at the Tokyo Olympics in Yokohama, Japan on Friday, Aug. 6, 2021. Sinclair was substituted in the second half of the gold-medal match, meaning she had to watch the penalty shootout that decided the game from the sidelines. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Canada players including Christine Sinclair (holding ball) celebrate their win against Sweden during the women’s soccer gold medal game at the Tokyo Olympics in Yokohama, Japan on Friday, Aug. 6, 2021. Sinclair was substituted in the second half of the gold-medal match, meaning she had to watch the penalty shootout that decided the game from the sidelines. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Canada captain Sinclair on penalty kicks: ‘The worst things ever, unless you win’

Penalties were an emotional roller-coaster

Being on the sidelines while a massive game is being decided by penalty kicks is not something Christine Sinclair has experienced often during her storied international career.

That was the very situation the talismanic Canadian captain found herself in on Friday, as her team traded penalties with Sweden in the final of the women’s soccer tournament at the Tokyo Games.

While Sinclair was ecstatic about the end result — Canada outscored Sweden 3-2 in the extra session to capture its first women’s soccer gold medal — she was less enamoured with the process.

“The PKs throughout the entire tournament are like the worst things ever,” Sinclair said in a video conference Tuesday. “Unless you win.”

Sinclair was substituted in the second half of the gold-medal match, meaning she had to watch kick after nerve-rattling kick from the bench.

“I think it’s the first shootout I’ve not physically been a part of, and it was the worst experience of my life,” she said. “I wish people had a camera on Desiree Scott and I throughout that shootout, because we were absolutely going insane and having heart attacks.”

The penalties were an emotional roller-coaster, with Jessie Fleming putting the Canadians ahead early, only to see the team’s next three shooters miss the mark as Sweden took a 2-1 lead.

Swedish captain Caroline Seger had a chance to win it but her attempt went over the crossbar, and Deanne Rose, needing to score to extend the shootout, came through with a strong effort into the top corner.

Tied after five kicks, the penalties went to sudden death. Canadian goaltender Stephanie Labbé came up with a big save on Sweden’s Jonna Andersson, then Canada’s Julia Grosso buried the winner.

“Every single practice we worked on our PKs knowing that a lot of tournaments come down to them,” Sinclair said. “We worked on them, we had extreme trust in ourselves, then we had Steph Labbé in goal who was like a brick wall.”

The gold-medal victory was the second game of the tournament Canada won in penalty kicks. The Canadians beat Brazil 4-3 on PKs in the round of 16, with Labbé stopping Brazil’s final two shooters for another dramatic win.

The gold medal is the latest highlight for Sinclair, who leads all soccer players in international goals with 187. She also led Canada to bronze medals at the 2012 London Olympics and the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.

While an Olympic championship would be the perfect cap to her international career, the 38-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., said she’s not ready to make any decisions about her future.

“Right now, I’m like: ‘I want to keep going forever!’ and then the next day I’m like: ‘Or you can just be done at the top.’ So who knows what will happen.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 10, 2021.

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