The second semi-final of the women’s football event proved to be the one of, if not the greatest game of the tournament so far. Most would’ve predicted a comfortable victory for USA, as this was their 5th semi-final and they had won the previous four.
For Canada, however, this was only their second appearance in an Olympic quarterfinal, having reached the quarterfinals in 2008, only to be knocked out by, yes, the United States.
The USA topped their group with more than double the amount of points 3rd place Canada received in their group. However, having knocked out Team GB, Canada felt another upset could be in the cards.
Prior to the match, Canada Manager and Brit, John Herdman accused the U.S of being much too physical. The game started with the Canadian team trying to beat them at their own game. This was shown inside the first couple of minutes with two forceful tackles.
Canada was pegged back in the opening stages, trying to muster a long ball counter attack. But the pressure finally lessened allowing Canada a few meaningful attacks of their own, and soon they took the lead. Melissa Tancredi found Christine Sinclair who swerved past Kelley O’Hara, opening up some space and allowing her to finish past the stranded Hope Solo.
The first half was full of life but the second half was incredible.
The U.S. equalized in the 54th minute from what can only be described as abysmal defending. The States’ promising winger, Megan Rapinoe, scored directly from a corner with the ball going through the legs of Lauren Sesselmann on the line. Rapinoe modestly admitted after, “I wish I could say that I was definitely meaning to score”.
It was a tough blow for the Canadians but they managed to find their rhythm and regained the lead. An attack down the U.S. right side allowed Tancredi to open up before delivering a cross which was met and scored by the head of Sinclair.
The next ten minutes proved why Women’s football is one of the fastest growing sports in the world. The Canadian’s lead lasted all of three minutes and again it was Rapinoe. She found time and space on the right hand side of the 18 yard box before unleashing a powerful drive that clipped the left hand post and nestled in the net.
But again, the U.S. were unable to prevent the Canadian waves of attack. Two minutes later, Sinclair proved to be Canada’s Captain Marvel. Again, she rose above the rest and planted her header past Solo, but this time off a corner kick.
With the Canadians leading this fierce competition with 12 minutes to go, the most bizarre event occurred. Referee Christiana Pedersen gave an indirect free kick to the United States for believing that keeper Erin McLeod held the ball for longer than the allocated 6 seconds. No one could believe what they had witnessed.
McLeod stated later, "There was a warning from the linesman at the start of the second half. She said 'Don't delay the play too much' but it wasn't like a real warning. I have never known this to happen in a game before. It was an interesting decision; referees never make this kind of decision".
She continued her attack on Pedersen, stating, “she, obviously, counted the time when I was on the ground with the ball. Once I got to my feet I calculate I only had the ball for five seconds...We feel like we got robbed in this game. The referee was very one-sided”.
It’s safe to say Pedersen didn’t have the best of games, as more than once she gave a side a corner when the ball blatantly came off of the attacker.
After the controversial call, the resulting free kick appeared to strike Marie-Eve Nault on the hand as she turned her body. Abby Wambach made no mistake converting the penalty, making it her 5th goal of the tournament in as many matches.
The game then headed in to extra time. With 122 minutes played and a matter of seconds remaining, Alex Morgan headed home the winning goal.
But despite the great game, the referee was the talking point of a highly contested encounter.
"We feel like we didn't lose, we feel like it was taken from us. It's a shame in a game like that, which is so important that the ref decided the result before the game started”, Sinclair remarked.
This result now leaves the Canadians fighting for bronze and Sinclair joked "maybe the referee will wear a Canadian jersey for this game” before saying, “I wouldn't want to be the team that plays us next. I've never been so proud of the team, even with this result knowing that we are not playing for gold, I wouldn't change a thing”.
This piece was written by Mike Marron of The Reporters' Academy, a media production company run by young people. The Reporters' Academy is integrated into the world of media, education and employment, based in two great sporting cities, Manchester and Melbourne, and is officially Inspired by London 2012.