Diana Matheson's stoppage time winner handed Canada it's first "traditional team" sport medal since 1936.
Emotion has always been a key element in soccer. It has driven great teams and players to the heights of the game. It has also betrayed players and lead them to the lowest of lows. The Canadian Women's soccer team has been running on a lot of emotions for the past 4 days.
On Monday a Gold medal game seemed so close, and was taken away by both a very strong United States team, and a referee. Words were said, harsh words that almost landed two very important players (Christine Sinclair & Melissa Tancredi) on the suspension list. The team was tired and "broken" as per the post match comments by head coach John Herdman. On Tuesday they were on the front page of every newspaper in Canada, and the talk of the sports world it seemed. By Wednesday they had to push that all out and concentrate on the medal they could win, against a French side that had embarrassed them 4-0 at last years World Cup, and 2-0 at the Cyprus Cup final in March.
Coming into this mornings match there were as many questions about the Women's team as there were answers. Can they put Monday behind them? Will they be fit enough to chase France around the pitch? Can they shape up defensively after conceding 4 goals? Can they beat a higher ranked opponent for the first time in a long time?
Well, by the end of Thursday the answers to those questions was a definitive "YES".
Diana Matheson's stoppage time winner handed Canada it's first "traditional team" sport medal since 1936. It was only Canada's second ever soccer medal at the games, and the first for the Women. There's a lot to pick at from this game, there is a credible shout that France deserved to win. They created a TON of chances, but there were only 4 shots on goal, and if you don't score you don't win. Canada gave the ball away on countless occasions, and were clearly gassed by the 70th minute. But there is plenty of time to dissect the technical aspects of the game later. For a team that has overcome the loss of 3 defenders, a first match loss against Japan and a disastrous first half against Sweden. This Bronze will shine as bright as Gold.
There are a few factors I believe lead to Canada's success at the London 2012 Olympics:
John Herdman - The head coach was installed after Canada's horrendous 2011 World Cup campaign. He came in a instilled an inner belief to the team. But also demanded his players take accountability for their play, and raise their standards. He has been a effective "Man manager" knowing when to put an arm around the shoulder, and when to be stern. His formation is solid, if not spectacular, and has made the team a better technical side.
Desiree Scott - Was on BEAST MODE this tournament. As the midfield destroyer, she was probably the second most important player on the pitch behind Christine Sinclair. This was her coming out party, she made tackle after critical tackle to win back possession for Herdman's side. It was her goal line clearance in the Bronze medal match that kept Canada in the game. At 25 she will be critical for Canada's chances in the 2015 World Cup.
Melissa Tancredi - Another player who as on beast mode, especially in group play. 4 goals in the tournament, and showed that she was more than a battering ram type Centre Forward. Her link up play with Christine Sinclair was just as important as Sinclair's goals.
The team's mental strength - Many will point to the response to the semi-final loss as the turning point in the tournament. But in truth the turning point came in the 2-2 draw with Sweden in the final group stage match. It was a game that required a positive result. The first half hour was poor, about as poor as I've seen them play. However the team picked themselves up, and fought back to tie it though 2 Tancredi goals.
Christine Sinclair - She's the best women's player in the world. And the best Canadian footballer we've ever produced Male or Female...Nuff said.
The hope with this Bronze medal is that it inspires other players to continue their elite development. That it will wake the government and the private sector to invest in Canadian football. And most importantly, it showcases our ladies to club teams so that they can play and train regularly. Only 3 members of the this Olympic team are attached to a club team. In comparison France has 8 players...from one club team. In order to progress further, either we must develop a premium league in North America, or the ladies need to find a ride in Europe.
But as said earlier, there is plenty of time to dissect what needed to get our ladies ready for the home World Cup of 2015. Today...it's time to celebrate!