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CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualification: Canada, Costa Rica Dominate

It was a night for the favourites as both Canada and Costa Rica enjoyed dominant victories over lesser opponents on the first day of CONCACAF Women's Olympic qualification.

Christine Sinclair embraces Kelly Barker as they celebrate a goal in Canada's 6-0 rout over Haiti. (Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)
Christine Sinclair embraces Kelly Barker as they celebrate a goal in Canada's 6-0 rout over Haiti. (Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

To the surprise of nobody, the first day of CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualification ended with resounding victories from the favourites. Costa Rica overcame a slow start and physical Cuban defense to take a convincing 2-0 win, while Canada dominated Haiti from the outset en route to a 6-0 victory. Canadian captain Christine Sinclair, playing in front of her home British Columbian crowd for the first time since 2006, bagged four goals in the rout.

Costa Rica was obviously the quicker and more talented team in their match, but strong Cuban effort and challenges that bordered on the dirty kept Costa Rica from asserting themselves. That doesn't mean Cuba generated much of their own. Despite a good scoring chance in the 18th minute by Yezenia Gallardo on a give-and-go with Yaremis Fuentes, Cuba basically lacked possession and had few opportunities to break down a Costa Rican defense that spent most of the game playing with three women back.

Costa Rica opened the scoring on twelve minutes. Central defender Marianne Ugalde, deep in her own half, launched a long ball to Carolina Venegas that got through Cuban captain Yutmila Galindo. Venegas took a few strides towards the corner of the box then drove a low cross to Saudy Rosales who outmuscled the overwhelmed Galindo and tucked away an easy shot with her right foot.

Cuba lacked pace and were miles behind in skill but certainly had physicality: Mexican refere Quetzali Alvarado let 'em play and Costa Rica's Venegas spent most of the game wearing a big tensor bandage after an arguably dirty clash of heads. For the first half hour that physicality allowed Cuba to mostly keep Costa Rica in check, but as the game progressed las Ticas' vastly superior skill and athleticism began to assert itself. Costa Rica's wing play was the most dangerous part of their game; although the crosses weren't always there, Cuban fullbacks Yoanis Linares and Anay Bombu were totally out of their depth.

Cuba's negative tactics did little to reduce the pressure. After a Yezenia Gallardo run went for naught when the Cubans just refused to support her, Costa Rica turned it around promptly and, at the 54th minute, Mariela Campos hit a through ball by a seam right down the middle of the Cuban defense. Wendy Acosta corralled the ball, took a couple steps to point-blank range, and roofed it to make the score 2-0. A few half-chances went Cuba's way but their finishing and lack of support made them sources of comedy rather than drama and Costa Rica, challenging for more goals until the final whistle, took an easy victory.

Canada had no problems taking on the unheralded Haitians. Coach John Herdman acknowledged that Canada started a little slow and Haiti occasionally penetrated Canada's half in the first fifteen minutes. There was little real doubt of the better team, particularly after Christina Julien put Canada in front on seven minutes.

Haiti came out with plenty of energy and enthusiasm in a tournament that saw them receive a lot of press as beloved underdogs and even free equipment from BC Soccer and the Canadian Soccer Association. At first their enthusiasm was almost enough to keep up with Canada's skill, but the far more talented Canucks kept whittling away. Sinclair scored her first by taking a cross from the right, loping into the box almost unmarked, and launching a weak shot that bobbled through Haitian goalkeeper Ednie Limage's legs. At the 44th minute Sinclair got another in finer fashion, collecting a softly-touched ball from Julien and hammering a shot past Limage to put Canada 3-0 in front at half.

The Canadians didn't slow down after the interval, despite a potentially serious-looking knee injury to left back Lauren Sesselmann which removed her from the game. Sesselmann walked off under her own power; there is no update on her status.

In the 55th minute, Canada scored what will probably stand up as the goal of the tournament: Melissa Tancredi, holding the ball just past the top of the arc, heard Sinclair shouting from behind her while the two were being marked only by diminutive Haitian Carmella Aristilde. Tancredi, with her back to Sinclair, lobbed a perfect no-look pass over Aristilde to the streaking Sinclair who touched it into the lower left corner.

The demoralized Haitians did not put up much of a fight for the second half: Sinclair scored from the spot and Kelly Parker banged in a blue-collar goal in stoppage time to give Canada a 6-0 win. The greatest concern for Haiti is over their goalkeeper Limage, who made some spry saves but collided horrifically with teammate Samantha Brand in the second half. Limage left the game on a stretcher and was taken to hospital, her coach suggesting she may have suffered a spine injury. Limage will likely be replaced for the tournament by Geralda Saintillius.