Canada had to settle for a draw in its opening game of the women’s soccer tournament at the Tokyo Olympics.
Christine Sinclair scored for Canada in a 1-1 tie against host Japan at the Sapporo Dome on Wednesday.
Canada goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe stopped a penalty before leaving the game injured, while Mana Iwabuchi scored for Japan.
“I think against Japan, we knew that they were very technical with the ball, but I think we had identified that we had to use our strengths and we wanted to impose ourselves without the ball on Japan,” said Canada coach Bev Priestman. “I thought we did that at times. Then we recognized when we get the ball into wide areas, we have to have late runners, running into the box and that’s exactly how our goal came.
“Credit to the group, they committed to that and got our goal; but I think credit to Japan. They’re an outstanding team, I think history shows that, and we knew we would have a difficult game on our hands. But credit to the group, they gave absolutely everything.”
The tie earned Canada a point in its first of three group games, with a match against Chile in Sapporo on Saturday. Chile lost 2-0 to Great Britain earlier in the day.
Canada conclude group play against Great Britain on July 27. The top two teams in each of the three groups advance to the quarter-finals, along with the two best third-place finishers.
Sinclair, 38, scored her 187th international goal in her 300th game, five minutes into the contest to give Canada the early lead.
Sinclair tapped in her own rebound off the goalpost following a low cross from Nichelle Prince down the right side.
It was the perfect start for Canada, who went into the 12-team tournament looking to improve on consecutive bronze-medal performances in London and Rio.
Canada's plan for gold in Olympic soccer: A mix of savvy veterans and young talent. Oh, and Christine Sinclair
Don't underestimate Japan (or Canada): Your guide to women's Olympic soccer
Japan had an opportunity to tie the game five minutes into the second half, when a collision between Labbe and forward Mina Tanaka in a race for a loose ball resulted in a penalty for the host.
At first, the foul was awarded to Labbe, who was injured on the play as Tanaka landed on her head and chest, falling over the goalkeeper after the two collided.
While Labbe was being attended by Canada’s medical staff, Brazilian referee Edina Alves was directed to look at the play again by the video assistant referee booth.
On a second look on the video monitor next to the field, Alves awarded a penalty to Japan, ruling Labbe took out Tanaka prior to getting the ball.
Despite being in obvious pain, Labbe stayed in the game to face the penalty, and made an excellent save on Tanaka to keep Canada ahead. Labbe then followed it up with a pair of outstanding stops in a wild scramble shortly after.
Labbe, however, was unable to continue with an apparent chest injury and had to be substituted in the 60th minute, replaced by Kailen Sheridan.
“We’re still assessing (Labbe),” Priestman said. “She came off and has the rest of the tournament in mind. We’re still assessing the status of her at the moment.
“But she did unbelievable. I think after that save when she saved the penalty, she made about three other saves after that. I think big players rise in big moments and she did that for the team regardless of how she felt, which is outstanding.”
Shortly after surviving the scare, Canada appeared to double its lead, when Janine Beckie scored from in close on a scramble in front. The goal, however, was ruled out for offside.
Canada had chances to put the game away, but were not ruthless enough in front of the net, electing to pass up a number of quality shooting opportunities.
Japan took advantage and Iwabuchi tied the game in the 84th minute, getting to a long ball over the top of the Canadian defence and lofting it past Sheridan, who was caught off her goal line.
Canada was able to regroup and the two teams traded chances looking for the winning goal, but neither could convert on its opportunities late in the game.
“I think we’re a team that rallies and bonds over our connection and through the highs and lows of a match,” said midfielder Desiree Scott. “I try and be that vocal leader and connect the group through the highs and lows, and I just thought we had to focus on the next task (after conceding) and we still had time to get after it.
“I was trying to refocus everyone and find that connection again. I was trying to be that voice to calm us and to also raise our level, because we needed to go again to try and get that win.”
Notes … Sweden surprised the defending World Cup champion United States, winning 3-0 in Tokyo on Wednesday. Stina Blackstenius scored twice and Lina Hurting added the other for Sweden in the victory. In other play on the opening day of competition, Brazil defeated China 5-0. Marta scored twice, while Beatriz, Andressa and Debinha scored the others for Brazil, who finished fourth in Rio in 2016, losing to Canada in the bronze-medal game. In the final two games of the day, the Netherlands defeated Zambia 10-3 and Australia edged New Zealand 2-1.
On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest