By ANNE M. PETERSON
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Monday, October 15, 2018
FRISCO, TEX. -- Christine Sinclair isn't concerned with chasing records. She's set her sights on the World Cup.
Sinclair scored twice and Canada went on to secure a spot in next year's World Cup in France with a 7-0 victory over Panama on Sunday in the semi-final of the CONCACAF qualifying tournament.
Sinclair has 177th international goals. She ranks second on the career list - among both men and women - behind former U.S. forward Abby Wambach's record of 184 goals.
After her header in the 44th minute gave Canada its opening goal, Sinclair pumped her fist in celebration.
She added another header in the 49th minute.
"It's my teammates that keep reminding me of it," she smiled. "Especially in this tournament. It's just all about qualifying."
Adriana Leon, who came in as a sub for Sinclair in the 68th minute, also scored a pair of goals.
The United States played Jamaica late on Sunday night in the other semi-final match at Toyota Stadium. The U.S. team, ranked No. 1 in the world, is the defending champion of the sport's premier event, having won the final in 2015 against Japan in Canada.
The final and third-place match are set for Wednesday night. The top three finishers in the CONCACAF Women's Championship will represent the region in France, so the winners of both semi-finals earn a berth. The fourth-place finisher will face Argentina in a playoff for a spot.
Canada, ranked No. 5 in the world, will make its seventh World Cup appearance.
The only time Canada has missed out on the game's premier tournament was in 1991, the event's first year.
"It's massive for us," Sinclair said. "It was obviously our goal coming into this tournament. It's getting more and more difficult qualifying out of CONCACAF, you see different teams making it the semi-finals, with Panama and Jamaica making it."
Panama coach Victor Daniel Suarez gave half of his starters from earlier in the tournament the night off, including 17-year-old goalkeeper Yenith Bailey, who turned heads in a 5-0 loss to the United States in the group stage. Carli Lloyd shook the teenager's hand following a gutsy performance. Panama started Farissa Cordoba instead.
The strategy was apparently to give the starters a break in anticipation that 66thranked Panama will play in the third-place game, perhaps against Jamaica, and a win there can still secure a World Cup berth.
Suarez said after the match that Bailey had a sore shoulder, so he wanted to keep her fresh for Wednesday's match.
Panama has never been to a World Cup.
"There's a lot of changes happening," Suarez said through a translator about Panama's recent rise. "They [the players] want to make history, as they are right now, but it will be step by step."
Canada had the best chances in the first half, including Allysha Chapman's shot in the 12th minute that was just off target and hit the side of the net, before Sinclair broke through.
Jesse Fleming added another goal for Canada in the 48th minute, a short time before Sinclair's second. Janine Beckie and Rebecca Quinn also scored before Leon's brace. Leon has six goals in the tournament.
Diana Matheson made her 200th appearance for Canada. The midfielder has played for the national team since 2003.
The Canadian women have played in six Women's World Cup tournaments.
Their best result was 2003, when they finished fourth.
The Canadian men have only qualified once, in 1986, and finished 24th of 24 teams.
Canada's Christine Sinclair scores on Panama goalkeeper Farissa Cordoba in Frisco, Tex., on Sunday. Sinclair scored two goals, both on headers.
JEROME MIRON/USA TODAY SPORTS