What. A. Game.
First off, looking at it from a neutral perspective, you had the whole underdog/alpha dog thing going on. The underdog, getting better with every game it played so far, gave a textbook "how to play against a team that's better than you" performance. Absorbing the pressure without panicking, bending without breaking and giving as good as they got when they had the chance, and having one of the best players in the world put on a masterclass of clinical finishing. The alpha dog showed just why it is the alpha dog, showing the fight and pride to maintain their place at the top of the pile when it became clear talent alone wasn't going to be enough, all that heart of a champion stuff. Add in a large dollop of controversy, 7 bloody goals with neither team ever leading by more than 1, a heartbreaking winner, in injury time of extra time no less, and that's what you get. A game that can be talked about for a long time.
Then you get to add the Canadian fan perspective to all that. One of the best games in Canadian footballing history, and hands down the best, most clutch individual performance from Christine Sinclair. A performance to be proud of, from a team that many (myself included) were doubting had it in them coming out of the group stages. Yeah, moral victories don't count for anything, but that was the most winningy and most moral of all moral victories, some of the team, in interviews or tweets were apologising for letting the country down, they did nothing of the sort.
And amidst all that, we got a massive screwjob. Even in the Olympics, in England, with a Norwegian ref, you can still get Concacaffed, and Christiana Pederson made herself as infamous as Benito Archundia with her performance today.
She'd already put in a dreadful performance, some strange calls, missed fouls, corners instead of goal kicks, that sort of thing. It had affected both team at different times, but the balance was definitely tipped in the US favour, but hey it's Old Trafford, the alpha dog always gets the calls, right? Then in the 77th minute she really took it up a notch, to outright incompetence.
Erin Mcleod was called for delay of game. Technically correct as she had held on to the ball for more than the 6 allowed seconds, roughly 10 seconds all told, but it's something that happens all the time (Hope Solo went past that 6 seconds twice in this game, no call) and never gets called. To call it with 13 minutes left, in a one goal game, in an olympic bloody semi final, without having given any kind of warning about timewasting previously, is an absolute joke.
That meant an indirect free kick, about 15 yards out, and the shot brushed Diana Matheson's arm before hitting the hand of Marie-Eve Nault in front of her face, I'm not sure who it was called against, but both players were turning their back to the play in self protection at the time. That one is harsh, but not ridiculous, though how exactly it was different than when the ball hit Megan Rapinoe's arm in the box shortly after Canada's first goal I guess only the ref knows.
Would Canada have held on for the win without that goal? It's by no means certain, the US are a ferociously competitive team that had already come back twice to tie it up, there was a very very long 13 minutes still to be played. But to have that chance taken away in that fashion is a ridiculously unfair disgrace.
It was such a well played game by Canada as well, they were full value for their lead at that point. Yes, the USA team had most of the play, that was always going to happen, but Canada dealt with the pressure very well. The defending was mostly calm and composed, limiting the chances for the US. The most impressive part for me was what happened when Canada won the ball.
Unlike what happened in the world cup against France, or in the recent friendly against the US, where Canada responded to intense pressure by repeatedly kicking the ball away, more often than not they tried to pass their way out of trouble. It wasn't every single time, and it wasn't always successful, but they stuck with that plan and looked so much better for that.
Canada didn't have many clear cut chances, again that was always going to happen, but Christine Sinclair was absolutely lethal. The fist goal was all about the patience she showed not to shoot right away, but to instead turn inside and around the defender to get a much better angle. Once directly through on Hope Solo, she made no mistake. Her headers for the 2nd and 3rd goals were both astonishingly well placed, just inside the post both times, giving Solo no chance, and the 3rd was perfectly placed to also avoid the player on the post.
Sinclair wasn't the only here out there for Canada, Erin Mcleod looked much better than in recent games, though she is one of many who share fault for that ugly ugly first US goal which is really the only moment of the game I'd criticise the Canadians for, a frankly very poor corner that they somehow allowed to squeeze in directly at the near post. The entire defence, but especially Carmelina Moscato deserve credit for doing a tough job very well. Diana Matheson and Desiree Scott were everywhere in midfield, helping the defence and pulling the strings up front, and Melissa Tancredi was all over the pitch in a constant physical battle.
The first two goals really showed the patience and skill Canada used to such great effect. Tancredi, Matheson and Marie-Eve Nault combined very well to get the ball to Sinclair in the box for the first and the second was even better. Some quick crisp passing from Matheson and Nault again, as well as Kaylyn Kyle this time eventually got the ball down the wing to Tancredi, who did fantastically to cut back and lose her marker, before putting an inch perfect cross into Sinclair.
Extra time was a bit of a dud compared to the 90 minutes that preceded it, as is often the case in this sort of match for some reason, but as it went on, there was only one team that was going to win. Canada were tired and Abby Wambach had a header hit the bar in the 119th minute, before Alex Morgan got the winner in the 3rd minute of injury time. No complaints about 'Fergie time at Old Trafford' there, there had been enough stoppages in the 15 minutes to justify that, but that doesn't make it any less heartbreaking for fans, and for the team themselves, denied the chance at a penalty shootout for the trip to the final.
That's what really hurts about the big decisions and overall performance from Pederson, it wasn't just one other thing in an easily forgettable lopsided loss. That was a dagger to the heart of the best damn performance from a Canadian team of either sex in a long time. That was a controversy to distract attention from where it should be, on an utterly enthralling match between an underdog playing out of it's skin, and an alpha dog forced to dig a lot deeper than expected, that rose to the challenge and just did enough to fight them off.
What. A. Game.