Stanley Chou/Getty Images
Things were chippy from the start of the women's soccer semifinal match between Canada and the United States. The Canadians had lost 27 straight matches to their powerhouse neighbors from below, but you would not know it from their attitude and play.
Canada led for much of the match thanks to national team star Christine Sinclair, who had a hat trick in the game. Team USA was down 3-2 late in the match, desperation increasing as the clock relentlessly counted the minutes.
Then Norwegian referee Christiana Pedersen made a controversial call.
Goalkeepers technically have six seconds of possession—including bouncing the ball to themselves—before they must release the ball via throw or punt. The rule is rarely enforced, but this was one of those rare occasions.
Abby Wambach and the Americans had complained to the referee about Canada's attempts to waste time. Who could blame the Canucks, who held a late, one-goal lead against a dangerous American team. As it turns out, Wambach's veteran savvy saved the day for Team USA.
In the 77th minute, Megan Rapinoe—heroine for the United Staes with two goals of her own—sent a corner kick sailing toward the goal. Canada's goalkeeper Erin McLeod caught the ball, and the other players bailed out of the box.
After holding it for some time, McLeod drop-kicked it to midfield. But the referee's whistle had blown.
The six-second rule had been violated, and the Americans were awarded a free kick in the box. Rapinoe would take the kick, sending a screamer straight toward Canadian defender Marie-Eve Nault. She reflexively raised her arm to protect herself and was whistled for a handball in the box when the ball hit her around the elbow, resulting in a penalty kick.
Wambach sent it home, the game went into overtime and Alex Morgan won it for Team USA on a last-gasp header just before penalty kicks.
The Canadians were understandably frustrated after the game. Some suggested the referee was biased, sparking a reaction from FIFA saying they would look into possible penalties for the insinuation.
In truth, the referee was merely enforcing rules. McLeod was informally warned to avoid time-wasting, and she actually held the ball for about 11 seconds—each one cleverly counted off by Wambach within earshot of the referee—before she was called it. Rapinoe's kick did ricochet off the hands of Nault.
Canada's bitterness only grew during the gold medal match as the United States appeared to get some favorable calls—Tobin Heath blocked a shot with her knee and arm in the box, and Hope Solo held the ball a little long at times:
Next time, Canada. Or maybe 27 times from now.