Na­tional de­jec­tion to ela­tion in 100 hours

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - STEVE MILTON smil­ton@thes­ 905-526-3268 | @mil­to­natthes­pec

Four days of the most gut-wrench­ing, anger-pro­duc­ing and, ul­ti­mately, re­ward­ing soc­cer ever played by a Cana­dian na­tional team. It was the half-week that soc­cer cul­ture changed for the pos­i­tive in this coun­try, and we’re notic­ing it in the en­cour­ag­ing play, fi­nally, of the men’s team which has re­al­ized that it’s prefer­able to play the game with the ball than with­out it, and in the pos­i­tive cy­berspace re­ac­tion the im­pend­ing Cana­dian Premier League is re­ceiv­ing. And, of course, in the un­con­di­tional love af­forded the Cana­dian women’s na­tional team to this very day. Five years ago next week — from Aug. 6 to 9, 2012 — the Cana­dian women, which only the year be­fore had lost all three games in the World Cup and been outscored 7-1, re­bounded to dic­tate the pace of what most soc­cer ex­perts con­sider the great­est women’s game soc­cer game ever played: the con­tro­ver­sial 4-3 loss to the U.S. Then four days later, they fought off emo­tional de­struc­tion, bru­tal fa­tigue and im­bal­ance of play on the field, to win Canada’s first Olympic medal in a tra­di­tional team sport in 76 years. “Af­ter the World Cup I thought we were done,” An­caster’s Melissa Tan­credi told The Spec­ta­tor af­ter Canada beat France 1-0 to win the bronze medal, de­spite be­ing on the wrong end of a 25-4 mar­gin — I’m not mak­ing that up — in shots at net. I’m of­ten asked about the great­est games I’ve ever seen in per­son. Usu­ally I men­tion the 1989 Grey Cup, but the Canada-U.S. women’s soc­cer game of 2012 is right be­hind it. It was played at Old Traf­ford and lived up to the el­e­vated rep­u­ta­tion of the home of Manch­ester United. Since the U.S. had usu­ally han­dled Canada fairly eas­ily, I thought the high­light of the day would be when a quar­tet of us jour­nal­ists had our pic­tures taken pre-game in front of the stat­ues of the Holy Trin­ity: United’s Bobby Charl­ton, Ge­orge Best and De­nis Law. Nice pic­ture, but, oh, how wrong I was. Chris­tine Sin­clair, who had a hat trick, played the finest game in Cana­dian soc­cer his­tory, by ei­ther sex, with the first two goals set up by Tan­credi, who at one point had led the en­tire Olympics in scor­ing. The phys­i­cal Tan­credi also in­tim­i­dated the Amer­i­cans to the point that the red, white and blue ha­tred of her was pal­pa­ble. But I also give the even­tual gold medal­lists credit for ral­ly­ing each time Sin­clair put them in a hole. They tied the game three times, al­though it was the third which res­onates in the Hall of Shame … not for the play­ers but for ref­eree Chris­tiana Ped­er­son of Nor­way. Ped­er­son had been ques­tion­able (and that’s be­ing nice) all game. But with Canada up 3-2, she un­be­liev­ably called Cana­dian keeper Erin McLeod for hold­ing the ball too long be­fore re­leas­ing it. An in­di­rect free kick near the spot was awarded to the U.S. That kick was driven right at Cana­dian de­fender Marie-Eve Nault’s hand and U.S. star Abby Wam­bach was awarded a penalty kick that she con­verted to send the game into ex­tra time, where the Amer­i­cans won. Nor­mally, if you can’t get out of the way — as had hap­pened in the Amer­i­can box only a few min­utes ear­lier — you aren’t pe­nal­ized for such a hand ball. Even U.S. coach Pia Sund­hage said she had never seen the hold­ing-it-too-long penalty called. When the game ended on Alex Mor­gan’s header af­ter 33 min­utes of ex­tra time that should never have been played, the emo­tion­ally bereft Cana­di­ans would not leave the field. It was the op­po­site of flee­ing the scene of a crime. “I feel robbed, that’s all I can say,” is what Tan­credi said, and then said some other crit­i­cal stuff, too. Sin­clair said a lot more and was even­tu­ally sus­pended. The fact that the sus­pen­sion was to be served af­ter the Games was a tacit ad­mis­sion by FIFA that the of­fi­ci­at­ing had been a farce. That cost Canada a berth in the gold medal game, and put them into the bronze medal game in Cov­ing­ton against France, who’d clob­bered them 4-0 in the World Cup. The Cana­di­ans were men­tally ex­hausted and Tan­credi, so spent from her bril­liant ef­fort against the U.S. that she could barely move in the sec­ond half, was re­placed af­ter 78 min­utes. McLeod was beyond bril­liant and the French had some bad luck or the game would have been lost long be­fore Canada’s only sor­tie into the French end in the sec­ond half. That came near the end, with ex­tra time loom­ing. Then five-foot-noth­ing Di­ana Mathe­son of Oakville scored the big­gest, most mem­o­rable goal in Cana­dian soc­cer an­nals and they shock­ingly won the bronze that felt like gold. The Spec­ta­tor’s de­scrip­tion: “For the sec­ond time in four days a Cana­dian game ended with one team shriek­ing in dis­be­liev­ing joy and an­other writhing on the turf in agony. Only this time, it was not the Cana­di­ans with their hands claw­ing at their heads in hor­ror.” Tan­credi said that as Mathe­son moved up into the play to score, “I freaked.” And so did an en­tire coun­try. Un­like four days ear­lier, in a good way.

Vet­eran Spec­ta­tor colum­nist Steve Milton has pretty much seen it all in his 40 years cov­er­ing sports around the world and, in Be­ing There, he re­lives spe­cial mo­ments of those sto­ries, from the in­side out, ev­ery Fri­day. If there’s a mem­o­rable sport­ing event you want Steve to write about, let him know at smil­ton@thes­ Chances are he was there.


Chris­tine Sin­clair cel­e­brates her third goal of the game against the U.S. at Olympics in that fate­ful game played al­most five years ago.


Shock and dis­be­lief for Sin­clair and An­caster’s Melissa Tan­credi af­ter the U.S. ex­tra-time vic­tory

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