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FIFA has launched an investigation following Canada's controversial 4-3 loss to the United States on Monday in the women's soccer semifinal at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, but not the one you might be expecting. According to Canadian reports, the investigation is not into the numerous questionable calls that went against Canada, but rather into the conduct of Canadian players and coaches following the game.
Among the more inflammatory comments were those made by Canadian forward Christine Sinclair, whose hat-trick performance ended all for naught.
"We feel like it was taken away from us," Sinclair said. "It's a shame in a game like that, which is so important, that the ref decided the result before the game started."
While not quite as accusatory, Canada coach John Herdman didn't pull any punches, either.
"The ref, she will have to sleep in bed tonight after watching the replay," Herdman said. "She's gonna have to live with that. We will move on from this. I wonder if she will be able to."
Norwegian referee Christiana Pedersen has reportedly denied numerous interview requests from journalists in both her home country and abroad. In the meantime, it appears that FIFA is clearly in her corner.
Canadian Soccer Association officials have said they do not intend to protest the result and intend to play in the bronze-medal match against France. It was unclear if FIFA was considering a punishment that would affect that match. Canada has never won a medal in Olympic soccer. Their best finish in the Women's World Cup was fourth in 2003.
The six-second call was just one of many terrible calls by a referee out of her depth, and it fit right in with an unbelievable Olympic semifinal.
Penalty kicks might be the most dramatic thing in sports. Two teams play 120 minutes of intense, closely-contested soccer in a knockout round and it all comes down to 10 kicks from the spot. That is the ultimate in drama, or so we think.
There is one thing more dramatic -- a goal in the 123rd minute when a match has been nothing short of pants on head crazy and seems destined for penalties, only for a team to grab a winner seemingly out of nowhere. That is otherwise known as the impossible happening and on Monday in the Olympic semifinals, Alex Morgan made the impossible happen with a goal that put the United States into the Gold Medal Match at the expense of Canada in a match that the English language does not have words to accurately describe.
And to think, that came after Christine Sinclair tried to carry the Canadians on her back with an amazing hat trick, Megan Rapinoe had an Olimpico and a 20-yard rocket off of the post for a goal and a controversial penalty late on to get the U.S. level. Bonus, it happened at Old Trafford, which lived up to its nickname as the Theatre of Dreams. This match could not have been dreamed up by even the trippiest of people on all of the drugs.
If you were looking for a match to raise the profile of women's football in Europe, this it. Canada against the United States in the semifinals of the 2012 Olympic games? That was always going to be tasty, and when that rivalry gets combined with a thoroughly entertaining, dramatic and combative match, from which the USWNT eventually emerged the winners, it's hard not to feel some affection for competition.
The first half was, in comparison to the second, fairly quiet. The USA dominated the early exchanges, although not to the level that they would have liked, but Canada took a surprising lead in the 22nd minute when Melissa Tancredi fed Christine Sinclar in the US box. Sinclair jinked past Christie Rampone and blasted the opener in at Hope Solo's near post. It was the first goal Solo had allowed in more than six hours of football.
After falling behind, the USWNT stepped up several gears, really stretching the Canadian defence, and although Erin McLoed was never really tested before the break there were a couple of close calls after headers from Abby Wambach and the impressive Alex Morgan. Goals were coming, but it took until the second half for them to arrive.
The US kept up their fast and furious pace after the interval, pushing Canada well back into their own half and keeping them on the back foot. But the inevitable goal still came as a complete surprise, because it ended up going in straight from a Megan Rapinoe corner:
That's a pretty embarrassing goal for Canada to concede, and with the mood that Rapinoe was in it probably wasn't an accident -- the defence left a gaping hole at the near post, and the winger picked it out perfectly.
But Rapinoe wasn't the only player on top form. Christine Sinclair had already scored a goal and ensured that the match didn't remain level for long, rising over the USA defence on a very high cross to power in a header off Solo's right post to make it 2-1 thirteen minutes after Rapinoe's equaliser.
And then Rapinoe did it again, taking down a cross-field pass near the edge of the penalty box before rifling home a shot that left McLeod totally helpless before bouncing off the post and barely over the line. Less than three minutes had elapsed between Sinclair pulling Canada ahead (again) and Rapinoe equalising. We wouldn't wait long until the next goal either, as Sinclair completed her hattrick with another header in the 73rd minute, beating Solo with a header that was a virtual carbon copy of her second goal.
Then things got... odd. You never see the six-second rule for goalkeepers, which is intended to prevent time-wasting, enforced. Ever. It was here, with the USA earning an indirect free kick in the 79th minute after Erin McLeod apparently held on to the ball for too long. From that free kick, the USA then earned a penalty when Rapinoe blasted a shot against Marie-Eve Nault's arm, which was covering her face. It's not entirely clear whether the free kick call or the penalty were correct, but that was hardly Wambach's concern, and the 32-year-old crashed her spot kick off the woodworkand in to make it 3-3.
Wambach had a chance to win the game for the US shortly thereafter when Alex Morgan ripped open the Canada defence and sent in a cross which took McLeod completely out of the picture only for the striker to volley well wide at the far post. Canada had their chances towards the end of the game as well -- Sophie Schmidt should probably have done better with a last-minute header that ended up directed straight at Solo.
After ninety minutes there was nothing to separate the two sides, and the match went to a thirty minutes of extra time which could probably be best described as 'exhausted'. The chances had dried up somewhat, with both sides using most of their energy in the second period, but Wambach should have done better when she managed to wriggle clear for a free header in the box, managing only a tame header to McLeod's left.
By the halfway point of the second half, Canada were running on fumes and the US were enjoying the vast majority of possession. But they couldn't break through a well-organised defence, and the game continued its seemingly inexorable march towards a penalty shootout. Heather O'Reilly managed to provide a moment of interest by wiping out Desiree Scott in the centre circle, somehow managing to avoid being called for a foul despite hyperextending the Canadian midfielder's knee and leaving her in a heap on the ground. The stretcher was called out, but, incredibly, Scott sent it away and staggered to her feet, playing on despite the obvious pain.
Canada were very nearly punished in the final minute of extra time after the ball squirted out to Morgan on the left. As she'd done all match, Morgan punched her way through the defence and then sent in a cross for Wambach. The resulting header looked lazy, but it was nearly perfectly placed, forcing McLeod into a backwards scramble before the goalkeeper's fingertips helped the shot onto the crossbar.
And then, finally, their resolve broke. Alex Morgan deserved a goal for her phenomenal efforts, and she got one right at the death. There was virtually no time left in the match when O'Reilly swung in a cross, and Morgan rose over a phalanx of white shirts to plant a header past McLeod. That dramatic goal made it 4-3 with what was essentially the last action of the game. It was high drama, and it was enough to put the USA into the final against Japan, a rematch of Japan's win in the 2011 World Cup.
Sports are pretty great, eh?
This match has been so awesome that they have to give us another 30 minutes. After 90 minutes filled with goals, drama, breathtaking play, mind-numbing strikes, near misses, awful refereeing and Christine Sinclair and Megan Rapinoe taking turns playing the role of "Most Interesting Woman in the World", the United States and Canada are still tied so they will head to extra time at 3-3.
Put simply, this match has been pants on head crazy. There really is no other way to put it. Sinclair scored first, then Rapinoe answered with an Olimpico. Sinclaur would not stop there, though, scoring to put Canada back in front, but Rapinoe had one more great shot in her, ripping one off the post and in to tie things again. There was still more from Sinclair, too, who got her hat trick with yet another goal. Finally, a gift from the referee put Abby Wambach on the penalty spot and she converted to tie the match one more time and force extra time.
Amazingly, all of that is maybe half of the drama. Seriously, this is nuts.
In a match that has been wild, amazing, breathtaking and pretty much anything else you can come up with, it also now has controversy. Well, it's had controversy, thanks to a referee who is woefully out of her depth, but now it has resulted in a goal and an equalizing one at that. After the rare six second call, the referee awarded the United States a penalty, which Abby Wambach converted to get the Americans level with Canada at 3-3 late on at Old Trafford.
For those who don't know what a six second call is, it does not mean you don't watch much soccer. A goalkeeper is theoretically not allowed to hold a ball for more than six seconds, but they do dozens of times per match and it is never called. It might as well not be in the rulebook. But somehow, for some reason, this referee decided to call Erin McLeod for holding the ball for more than six seconds even though she didn't hold it for that long.
The result of the call was a indirect free kick in the box, which Megan Rapinoe hit right at a Canadian and off of her arm for a penalty. Wambach wasn't about to miss from the spot and she didn't, hitting it hard and low to beat McLeod. Now things are tied again, but not without controversy.
If Canada ever wants to get together and create a nationalized religion, Christine Sinclair will be their god. The Canadian striker is off playing her own game because it is not soccer. It is something better and more amazing. She just scored her third goal of the match to put her country in front of the United States, 3-2, and Canada is back on the verge of pulling off a massive upset over the Americans.
Once again, Sinclair finished with her head because apparently finishing with her feet would be indicative of being a mere human, or something like that. With two defenders on her, Sinclair rose highest, met the ball and nodded the ball past Hope Solo once again.
It was just more of the same from Sinclair, who has been nothing short of amazing all match as she has basically put Canada on her back and carried her country. So far, it's working.
This match is absolutely nuts and it is as much Megan Rapinoe vs. Christine Sinclair as it is United States vs. Canada. Sinclair scored first to put Canada in front, but then Rapinoe scored and Olimpico to level. Sinclair responded with a great finish and now Rapinoe has scored another great goal to get the U.S. level. This. Is. Nuts.
There wasn't a lot in the play leading up to the goal. There was no build up play of note or great passing. It was a pretty simple goal that had one result -- Rapinoe is awesome.
The American got the ball at 20 yards, cleared a bit of space for herself and let rip. It was a rocket off her boot that left Eric McLeod no chance before hitting the inside of the post and going in. It was a great goal that got the U.S. level and her level with Sinclair. It's on!
Once the United States scored to get back level with Canada, the match was supposed to turn decisively in favor of the Americans. Wrong. Christine Sinclair decided that she was basically going to put Canada on her back and carry her country, which she just might do. The Canadian superstar scored her second goal of the match to put Canada back in front, 2-1, and back on the verge of a massive upset of the U.S. in the Olympic semifinals.
Some clever play by Canada got Melissa Tancredi free down the left and she cut back before hitting a cross right back to the middle. That was a great place to hit it because that is where Sinclair was and the striker did what she doest best. She cleared space and headed perfectly into the corner, beating Hope Solo and putting Canada back in front. It was a great bit of finishing and one that has the Canadians back on the front foot.
The United States were pressing and pressing Canada, pushing for an equalizer, but nobody thought that an Olimpico would get them level -- not that the Americans are complaining. Megan Rapinoe put a corner kick straight into the goal was an amazing goal to equalize for the U.S. and put them on the front foot in this Olympic semifinal.
Canada had not led the U.S. in a match since way back in 2003 so when they scored first, everybody was stunned. Could the U.S., who has played in all four Olympic gold medal matches really fall in the semifinals to the team they have so thoroughly dominated for years? Maybe, but it wouldn't be without a fight and that's what the U.S. gave them. They pressured Canada, created chances and drew fouls and corner kicks seemingly at will.
Finally in the 54th minute it paid off. Rapinoe curled her corner kick just around the post and with Rachel Buelher in front of the goal occupying a defender and the goalkeeper, the ball was able to just barely get across the line. The ball deflected off of a defender and found the net amid a scrum inside the net, but by that point that ball had already crossed the line and Rapinoe had herself the unbelievably rare Olympic Olimpico to get the U.S. even.
The first half of their Olympics 2012 semifinal against Canada has not gone entirely to plan for the United States, who are looking to set up a repeat of the 2011 World Cup final vs. Japan in the gold medal game. So far, however, it looks like it's the Canadians who'll go through. The underdogs have the upper have through Christine Sinclair, who ripped open the USA's defence before finishing emphatically past Hope Solo to make it 1-0 in the 22nd minute.
There have been plenty of chances to equalise, however, with both Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan flashing headers past Erin McLoad's goalposts, but nothing's really happened for the States yet. They did step it up a notch towards the end of the half, with Tobin Heath and Morgan both extremely impressive, but with nothing to show for it you can't imagine that Solo and company will be very happy heading into the break.
The USA's hopes of getting to the gold medal game have just taken a fairly major blow. Despite having the better of the opening exchanges, the USWNT have gone 1-0 down against Canada in their 2012 Olympic Women's football semifinal after a very well-taken goal from Christine Sinclair.
An interception from Desiree Scott put Canada on the attack, and Sinclair showed some incredible awareness to jink through the USA defence before blasting a shot to the near post, beating a helpless Hope Solo for the lead. That's the first goal that Hope has given up since conceding twice in the early stages of the USA's opening match against France. That one eventually ended up with a 4-2 win for the States -- can the favourites reply in similar fashion here? Awaiting them in any potential final are Japan, who beat France 2-1 in the earlier semifinal today. The game's open enough that there are surely more goals in it...
The United States is used to beating down on Canada, having gone 11 years without losing to their neighbors from up north and winning both of their matches against the Canucks this year by a combined score of 6-1, but those two matches were just friendlies. Now, the U.S. and Canada play for real, in a match that really matters. They are playing in the Olympic semifinals, with a spot at Wembley in the Gold Medal Match on the line.
Both the U.S. and Canada are going with fairly predictable lineups. Neither has made any drastic changes from their usual XI so it is familiarity vs. familiarity. These teams have played each other enough time. Both teams know what the other is going to do. There are no smoke and mirrors here, just 90 (maybe 120?) minutes for a spot at Wembley.
United States (4-4-2): Hope Solo; Amy LePeilbet, Christie Rampone, Rachel Buehler, Kelley O'Hara; Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd, Lauren Cheney, Tobin Heath; Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach.
Canada (4-3-3): Erin McLeod; Rhian Wilkinson, Carmelina Moscato, Lauren Sesselmann, Marie-Eve Nault; Desiree Scott, Diana Matheson, Sophie Schmidt; Christine Sinclair, Melissa Tancredi, Jonelle Filigno
The U.S. is a perfect 4-0 in the Olympics and stand just one win away from a berth in the Olympics Gold Medal Match, but Canada stands in their way
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