Text by FIFA.com
In 2002, Canada gave the football world its first glimpse of a tournament and, with it, a player who encapsulated that tournament’s purpose. Showcasing and developing emerging female talent had been the stated aim of the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup – then known as the U-19 Women’s World Championship – and, in Christine Sinclair, it was apparent that the fledgling event had a rare gem.
The striker, who had just turned 19, was a veritable sensation. Power, poise and ten goals – still a competition record – helped earn her both the adidas Golden Ball and Golden Shoe awards, and propelled the hosts to the final. And while disappointment followed, in the shape of a narrow extra-time defeat to USA, the fact that 47,784 fans turned up to roar on Sinclair and Co spoke for the way in which Canada had embraced the team, and the beautiful game.
With Sinclair having become one of the world’s foremost players and the U-20 showpiece back on Canadian soil, we caught up with big star of that inaugural edition to share her memories and views on the upcoming finals.
FIFA.com: Christine, what are your memories of that tournament in 2002?
Christine Sinclair: I just remember it as this incredible experience, and it’s something that will always stay with me. All of our games were in Edmonton and, as the tournament went on, the country just fell in love with our team. I still talk about it with the other girls who played that year; it’s something we all look back on very fondly. The whole scale of the tournament, and the sheer number of fans, totally exceeded all of our expectations. It was amazing. It set the game, and women’s football in particular, in the right direction and I think we’ve continued making strides ever since. I think it showed too that there was an appetite for these kind of tournaments in Canada. I’m sure you’ll see that again over the next few weeks.
Are your memories of 2002 entirely positive, or do you still think of that final against USA and wonder what might have been?
As time’s passed, I have been able to look back on the competition as a whole and think what a great success it was overall. But I’m a professional footballer – a competitor – and of course I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that final and how it could have been different. I always remember that I had a good chance to score and if that had gone in we might have been champions on home soil.
All the same, you had an incredible tournament, winning the Golden Boot and Golden Shoe and scoring ten goals, which is still a tournament record. Did that success give you confidence to begin forging the kind of career you’ve since enjoyed at senior level?
Absolutely. I was fortunate to have already won quite a few caps for the senior team by that stage but, all the same, it was my first major tournament. You always wonder how it will go. So for it to go the way it did – both in terms of my individual performance and the team’s success – gave me a massive amount of confidence. It was just a case of realising, ‘Yeah, I can do this’. And that’s why these tournaments can be so important to the players involved.
You know that better than most, of course, because there are still several survivors of that 2002 side starring for Canada’s senior team today.
It’s fantastic how many of us are still involved all these years later, and it shows what can happen if you’re developed in the right way. It helped us that Even [Pellerud, then Canada coach] took the decision to bring in a bunch of young players to the senior squad at the same time, and the likes of myself, Erin McLeod, Rhian Wilkinson, Diana Matheson and Brittany Timko have essentially grown up together in the team since then. But it’s important elsewhere too. You look at the successful teams like USA and Germany and you can pretty much guarantee that all their players will have had experience of a U-20 World Cup. It’s become such an important part of coming up through the ranks and maturing in international football.
Do you see similarities between that 2002 Canada team and the current U-20s? Like you, six of the players involved have already made their way into the senior team.
When I see these players, it makes me sure that the future of Canadian women’s soccer is very bright. With Kadeisha [Buchanan], Jessie [Fleming] and the others, you’re talking about players who’re so young and so talented. Their potential is limitless. Right now, they’re already incredible soccer players and, with someone like John Herdman guiding them at senior level, I’m sure they’ll be big players for us next year. I had been hoping to get up to cheer them on in the tournament, but with my club [Portland Thorns] going for the play-offs in the NWSL, I don’t think it’s going to be possible. I’ll be following it very closely on TV and online though, and I’ll definitely be rooting for them from afar.
And you obviously have a FIFA Women’s World Cup here in Canada to look forward to next year. How are you feeling about that?
It’s incredibly exciting. Talking about 2002, it does have the feeling of coming full circle and I feel incredibly fortunate because not many people get to play two World Cups in their home country. I’m sure it’s going to be a fantastic tournament and I must say that I feel good about how the Canada team is shaping up. I think we’re peaking at the right time.
And what about you personally? Are you happy with your form and fitness ahead of the tournament?
I feel great. I’m in good shape and I just love playing professional soccer. Playing and training with and against the best players in the world brings out the best in me. Hopefully I can bring that experience next year and help us have a really great World Cup.