MONTREAL — The fans got to see a Christine Sinclair cameo and a heap of heroics from goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan on Saturday as Canada fell 1-0 to Brazil in a game that marked the beginning of the end of Sinclair's international career.
The contest, before a lively sellout crowd of 19,619 at Saputo Stadium, seemed destined to end in a scoreless draw until a Debinha shot from distance deflected in past Sheridan in stoppage time in what was virtually the last kick of the game.
Sinclair, who entered the game in the 68th minute to an ovation, had won the ball back from a Brazilian before passing it to Deanne Rose, who was dispossessed to set up the final Brazilian attack. Debinha's shot hit Kadeisha Buchanan's thigh and then deflected off Vanessa Gilles' arm.
Sheridan, who had been going the other way, somehow managed to get a hand to the ball.
"(I'm) a little bit gutted to have a double deflection," said Canada coach Bev Priestman. "Kailen's good but maybe not that good.
"To be honest, we should have put the chances away that we did get," she added. "I said to the players that that goal at the end doesn't matter then if you put your chances away."
Sheridan had put on a shot-stopping clinic prior to the goal. And Gilles had a glorious chance earlier in stoppage time in a goalmouth scramble off a free kick, only to see goalkeeper Leticia came up big for Brazil
"I feel like I probably had it (before the deflection). I thought I might have had it with the deflection at the end," said Sheridan, a finalist for NWSL goalkeeper of the year. "I just couldn't get my foot stuck in the ground again after I took off."
The ninth-ranked Brazilians turned it on as the clock wound down but were unable to beat an acrobatic Sheridan until the end. And there was more late drama off the field with one of the assistant referees limping off the field with an injury.
Brazil, in its first game since the World Cup and under the guidance of new coach Arthur Elias, outshot Canada 15-9 (9-3 in shots on target),
The two teams meet again Tuesday at a sold-out Wanderers Ground in Halifax.
Sinclair will then call time on her Canada career with a pair of games against No. 11 Australia in her backyard — Dec. 1 at Langford’s Starlight Stadium and Dec. 5 at Vancouver’s B.C. Place Stadium.
"Across these four games, fans that come to see Sinc will get to see Sinc in the game," Priestman said prior to the game.
But they had to wait Saturday, although they got a good view of Sinclair warming up with the other substitutes during halftime. Jessie Fleming, seen as Sinclair's heir apparent as captain, led the team out.
It marked just the 16th time in 328 appearances that Sinclair has not started for Canada — but the fourth this year.
Sinclair, who did not speak to the media after the game, lingered on the field to sign autographs.
The Brazil and Australia games also mark the start of No. 10 Canada's road — or a "sprint" as Priestman called it — to the Paris Olympics next July. The Olympic champion Canadians booked their ticket to Paris in September with a 4-1 aggregate victory over No. 37 Jamaica.
There was a festive feel to Saturday's game with fans lined up pitchside cheering the Canadian goalkeepers as they came out to warm up. And the volume increased when the Canadian outfield players emerged.
"I hate it but I love it, at the same time," Sinclair, no fan of the spotlight, said of the attention prior to the match.
Before kickoff, Sinclair exchanged jerseys with Canada hockey captain Marie-Philip Poulin to cheers. On Friday, Sinclair was presented with a CF Montreal jersey with her number from club president and CEO Gabriel Gervais.
"#12. Thank you is not enough" read one sign in the stands.
Sinclair, who plans to play one more season with the NWSL’s Portland Thorns, leads all men and women with 190 international goals. And her 328 caps are second only to retired American Kristin Lilly's 354.
Eight of those goals have come against Brazil, with Sinclair opening her account against the South Americans back in November 2006, in a 4-2 Canada win at the Peace Queen Cup in South Korea.
Goals No. 64, 92, 112, 119, 132, 133, 137 and 165 came against Brazil.
It was a sunny 14 degrees Celsius at kickoff with a good number of yellow-clad Brazil fans behind one goal.
Sheridan started behind a backline of Gilles, Buchanan and Jade Rose. Ashley Lawrence and Sydney Collins served as wingbacks with Quinn, who goes by one name, and Fleming in midfield and Adriana Leon, Nichelle Prince and Cloe Lacasse up front.
The formation turned into a back five when Brazil attacked.
The 37-year-old Marta, like Sinclair a veteran of six World Cups, captained Brazil.
The Canadians came out with purpose, with Brazil hard-pressed initially to hang onto the ball. But the Brazilians grew into the game.
Fleming went down early and exited in the 22nd minute, handing the captain's armband to Buchanan as Julia Grosso came on. Priestman said the Chelsea midfielder was possibly suffering from a migraine.
Sheridan made a fine save to deflect an Adriana shot headed to the top corner in the 32nd minute. And she was even busier in the second half, stopping Debinha at close-range in the 62nd minute. The San Diego Wave 'keeper made another diving save 10 minutes later, doing it again on the ensuring corner.
Brazil appealed unsuccessfully for a penalty for handball in the 74th minute when Rose went down.
Saturday's game was the first for the women in Montreal since October 2021 when they defeated New Zealand 1-0 as part of their celebration tour following the Tokyo Olympics. Canada Soccer said it was the biggest crowd for a national team game at Saputo Stadium. A 1-1 draw with the Netherlands at the 2015 Women's World Cup drew 45,000 at the adjacent Olympic Stadium.
Canada came into the game with a 12-10-7 career record against Brazil, winning 2-0 the last time they met in February in Nashville at the SheBelieves Cup.
Like Canada, Brazil came home early from the FIFA World Cup this summer. The Brazilians failed to reach the knockout round, finishing third in Group F with a 1-1-1 record after beating Panama 3-0, losing 2-1 to France and drawing Jamaica 0-0.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 28, 2023
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press