YAAAAAAYYYYYYYYY!!!!! (Credit: Julian Finney, Getty Images)
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Cam. Abily 90'
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Your love is like a tidal wave, spinning over my head
Drownin' me in your promises, better left unsaid
You're the right kind of dreamer, to release my inner fantasy
The invincible winner, and you know that you were born to be
You're a heartbreaker, dream maker, a love taker
Don't you mess around with me...
- "Heartbreaker", Pat Benatar
It's been 76 years since Canada has won a medal in a team sport at the Summer Olympics, and three days after a disaster, the Canadian women have smashed that to pieces with a 1-0 stoppage time win over the French, on a Diana Matheson late-game winner, something that shouldn't have happened -- if what one of the French forwards said about Canada being afraid of them was actually true.
And for about 89 minutes, Canada did seem to fear the French, letting them control the play and most of the good chances. The first half was rather uneventful, with both sides in the "don't concede the first goal" mindset. Neither goal was really challenged in the first half, but France did have a few fanciful shots at goal which ended up going nowhere, something that would be a trend for the rest of this match.
The French poured it on in the second half, as they dominated the chances. But shot after shot either went wide, or was saved by Erin McLeod, who has played relatively well since the game against Japan to warrant keeping the starting role. The French were unrelentless, but their finishing was rather suspect: time and time again, they had the Canadians on the ropes, only to sky the shot, or hit the post (which they did twice during the match) -- if not for some desperate defending, it could have been a lot worse for the Canadians.
The winning goal from Matheson was almost out of a sports movie: the beaten underdog, with their one shot at glory at the end, scores just as the buzzer goes. It's as cliched as it gets -- but hey, we'll take it.
The goal came just after Christine Sinclair was taken down hard by Camille Abily in the French penalty area, the ball found Kaylyn Kyle off a Sophie Schmidt header, but Kyle would only fire it wide. The next chance, Sinclair would flick it to Schmidt again, who would fire it off Sonia Bompastor. The rebound would land square at the feet of Matheson, who lands the death blow. France would get one half-chance, but a Le Sommer foul on Lauren Sesselman would effectively kill off what remained of the clock to start the party across Canada, and break French hearts everywhere.
This was not a game that the Canadians were supposed to win, and the statstics showed that -- but soccer games aren't won on stats, and Canada won the biggest stat battle of them all, after France repeatedly failed to capitalize on their own chances. Canada's defence bent but didn't break, something that wasn't expected of them after all the injuries they've gone through (having lost Emily Zurrer, Robyn Gayle, and only gaining Candace Chapman back for this game); it's almost a miracle that they survived, but survive they did to gain the chance to win.
For their part, France should have won this game many times over, but their ineptitude in finishing (some almost bordering on Benny Hill-like hilarity in how bad it was), even when they had the Canadian defense beaten, proved to be the difference in the end. They will bounce back, however, as coming so close twice in two major competitions can only fuel them to improve further.
Meanwhule, the Canadians' bronze win won't completely heal the hurt from Manchester, but it certainly provides our women more ammunition towards the future heading into the World Cup. And who knows? Maybe someday, we'll have another Canadian star/let tell the media, "I was inspired by that goal by Matheson." -- and if s/he does that, then we know that this game will have had the impact we have dreamed.
But for now, Canada, we shall celebrate. It's not gold or silver, but bronze is just as sweet. Many of the players do have the fallout from the FIFA disciplinary committee to deal with (whatever that will be), and there will be the inevitable French cry of "foul" for FIFA's "investigation" taking so long. But who cares any more? Bronze!