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Canadian players prepare for emotional farewell to captain Christine Sinclair

VANCOUVER — Christine Sinclair's parting words in the huddle that followed her final Canada practice were "Go and get me a World Cup."

Competitive right to the end.

The World Cup is one prize that eluded Sinclair. In six trips to the sport's showcase, Sinclair's and Canada's best finish was fourth in 2003.

But Sinclair has ticked just about every other box.

Olympic bronze, bronze and gold. A world-record 190 goals. Order of Canada. Walk of Fame. Canada Player of the year 14 times. NWSL champion. Not to mention, a flawless, even admirable reputation off the field.

The 40-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., calls time on her international career Tuesday night against Australia in a friendly that promises to be an emotional farewell in her backyard.

Some 45,000 are expected for the game at B.C. Place Stadium, which is being renamed "Christine Sinclair Place" for the evening. The stadium which drew a Vancouver Whitecaps home record MLS attendance of 30,204 for last month's playoff game against Los Angeles FC, was already adorned Monday with signs around the field reading "Thank You Sinc."

"It's going to be a roller-coaster of emotions," said veteran midfielder Desiree Scott.

"It's emotional. I think it hasn't set in," added forward Jordyn Huitema. "My whole career with the national team has involved her and I don't know what it's going to look like without her … She means a lot to me."

"We're all going to be holding back some tears. Probably not very well," said goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan.

Sinclair, who has come off the bench in five of her last six appearances, is expected to lead the team out Tuesday one last time for her 331st cap and 313th start. A dozen members of Canada’s London 2012 Olympic bronze-medallist team will be waiting as an honour guard.

Sinclair was relaxed in meeting the media Sunday with Schmidt. But Canada coach Bev Priestman said the floodgates may open at some point.

"She is such a strong person but she's a human being," said Priestman. "I have no doubt that probably in that moment it's going to hit her big time."

Canada Soccer says more than 50 former women’s and men’s internationals will be in attendance.

No doubt her current teammates will do all they can to get her goal No. 191, adding to her world-record total.

"She delivers in big moments," said Priestman.

The skipper last scored July 25, 2022, in a 6-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago. She has been held scoreless in her last 19 Canadian outings, although her role has changed in recent times with Priestman able to choose from a number of young strikers and deploy Sinclair deeper as needed.

Sinclair walked out onto the B.C. Place field to the sounds of Shania Twain's "Any Man of Mine" and clicking cameras Monday. Before training, she and veteran midfielder Sophie Schmidt were presented with framed jerseys by the Whitecaps.

"Two absolute legends," said Priestman.

The 35-year-old Schmidt, a veteran of 225 internationals, is also playing her final game for Canada but like Sinclair plans another season with her club team.

The two are being honoured Tuesday along with 40-year-old goalkeeper Erin McLeod, who announced her international retirement in January after 119 international appearances. McLeod will watch from the sidelines.

The goal is to send them out on a winning note.

"It's going to be an incredible night. But I know that every player will run the extra 20, 30 yards that they need to run for what those players have done for the program," said Priestman.

"What we're doing and the way we're playing is absolutely with Paris (the 2024 Olympics) in mind. But there is a reality of what (Tuesday) is also so it's a juggling act."

Australia coach Tony Gustavsson fielded an experimental lineup against Canada on Friday in Langford, B.C., suffering a 5-0 loss as a result. The starting 11 featured none of the starters from the Matildas' lineup in the World Cup in Melbourne in July, when co-host Australia won 4-0 to send the Canadians home early.

Gustavsson, who was an assistant coach with the U.S. team when it defeated Japan 5-2 before 53,341 at B.C. Place to win the 2015 World Cup, said Tuesday's starting 11 will offer "a different look in terms of lineup."

Priestman is expecting a different Australia test Tuesday.

"More high-pressing and intensity. And obviously they've got some world-class players that are playing week-in week-out in the WSL (England's Women's Super League)," said Priestman. "Once that whistle goes, whether it's the night it is or not, I can imagine it's going to be a great game, with two teams who are on a journey to the Olympics."

Friday's victory improved the 10th-ranked Canadian women's record against No. 11 Australia to 9-8-3. Canada has won four of the last five meetings.

The game is the last for the Olympic champion Canadians until February's CONCACAF W Gold Cup. The Matildas are prepping for the final round of Asian qualifying in February against No. 50 Uzbekistan, a two-legged series with the winner joining the 12-team field in Paris.

Canada has already qualified for the Paris Olympics.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2023.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press