Like many of the other Canadians caught up in the drama that was the Olympic women’s semi-final soccer match on Monday, we too were disappointed that the United States managed to pull out a 4-3 win in the final few seconds of extra time.
But that disappointment does not extend to the members of the Canadian team, who — by any measure — have earned the praise of their country for their herculean effort.
It was a defining moment for Canada in these London Olympics, a taste of what can be achieved through hard work and determination. While it was unfortunate that the final tally didn’t match the effort these women made, it will no doubt be one of the most memorable games of footy in Olympic history.
That is what both Canadians and our female soccer athletes should take away from such a ground-breaking match, not bitterness and anger over questionable calls from Norwegian referee Christiana Pedersen.
It was Pedersen who awarded a free kick outside the Canadian box when Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod was whistled for holding the ball for more than six seconds.
As the New York Times reported, Pedersen’s ruling against McLeod was one that many veteran players and coaches say they have never seen, and many described it as baffling. McLeod said she was informally warned by an assistant referee at halftime, but noted that it “wasn’t like a real warning.”
It was Pedersen who then charged Canadian Marie-Eve Nault with a handball on that kick, even though it appeared that she was unable to get out of the way of the ball.
Under FIFA rules, if a player has no time to move their hands out of the way, referees are not supposed to issue a handball foul. That unfortunate call resulted in an unobstructed free kick for the Americans, and a goal by U.S. player Abby Wambach that tied the game at three apiece.
Star player and team captain Christine Sinclair, who pulled a hat trick that night, said she felt as if the Canadian team was robbed of a victory.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed and upset,” Sinclair said. “We felt that the referee took it away from us, so, yes, we are disappointed. 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.”
We certainly share the women’s frustration — every Canadian who watched the game and the heartbreaking expressions of disappointment on the women’s faces must have. It’s certainly not wrong to question the calls made by any referee, especially when they appear to be at odds with standard practice.
That FIFA is now investigating the Canadian comments for possible disciplinary action, while seemingly oblivious to the actions of its own referee, is particularly galling. Perhaps this is the best argument to abolish the six-second rule altogether. At the same time, the use of video replay on the field would help guard against such calls in the future.
However, any allegations of game fixing should not unjustly tarnish the American squad.
While the Canadians surprised the U.S. squad by putting up a massive and sustained fight from the very first, the Americans gave as good as they got. Though it was awful for us hopeful Canucks to watch, American Alex Morgan’s header in the last seconds of extra time was a beautiful goal. That’s not luck — that’s skill, and it deserves to be recognized for what it is.
The Canadian women still have a chance at a bronze medal in their game with France on Thursday, though of course it won’t be the colour they want. If they win, it would be the first Canadian medal in a team sport at the Summer Olympics since 1936.
And that, too, would be something to be proud of.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 8, 2012