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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Goal spells redemption

Women's soccer side wins bronze for Canada

Posted: 08/10/2012 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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COVENTRY, England -- John Herdman has a picture of Christine Sinclair in his home office in Vancouver from last summer's World Cup. Canada's captain has her head in her hands, her face twisted in anger and despair.

When the Newcastle native took over as coach of the Canadian women's soccer team last fall, he promised his players he would use that photo as his motivation.

"I'll never see a player of that quality in that state after a tournament," Herdman says he told them. "It's great to see Christine smiling, you know?"

The Canadians will be smiling for a long time after capturing a bronze medal with a 1-0 win over France at the London Summer Games on Thursday -- the first time a Canadian soccer team has climbed an Olympic podium and a remarkable turnaround for a squad that only a year ago was in tatters after its disastrous World Cup performance.

Diana Matheson scored in the 92nd minute to provide a stunning ending to a game that saw the French utterly dominate a weary Canadian side. The French outshot Canada 25-4, and 4-1 on target, banging shots off the crossbar and post and forcing keeper Erin McLeod to make spectacular saves.

Just as the game appeared headed for extra time, which would have been bad news for the gassed Canadians, the 28-year-old Matheson pounced on Canada's lone scoring chance, running onto a deflection off a French defender from a Sophie Schmidt shot, firing a low hard ball past French goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi.

Rhian Wilkinson tossed the Oakville, Ont., native -- all five feet of her -- over her shoulder like a sack of flour in celebration.

"I have no idea what happened. I can't remember it," Matheson said. "I think the ball came down the left and I was in the right place at the right time. The ball was right there, the net was basically open

"It definitely was in slow motion. It felt like a dream. It feels unreal right now."

The bronze marks Canada's first Summer Games medal in a traditional team sport since a silver in men's basketball in 1936.

It was the redemption the Canadians had been dreaming of after hitting what they say was "rock bottom" at the World Cup. They went winless, mathematically eliminated in a 4-0 thrashing by the same France squad they beat Thursday at City of Coventry Stadium. They vowed they would never feel that way again. Herdman, who was hired to pick up the pieces after the disaster in Germany, promised them they wouldn't.

Sinclair, who has to be a favourite for FIFA women's player of the year after her Olympic performance, briefly fought back tears in the post-game news conference.

This time, at least, they were tears of joy. Three days earlier, the 29-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., struck for three goals in Canada's 4-3 heartbreaking semifinal loss to the Americans -- a controversial result that took 123 minutes to decide and left the threat of FIFA sanctions hanging over the Canadian squad over "incidents that occurred" after the game.

Sinclair set the Olympic women's record for tournament goals scored with six.

Last year's team would have folded under the French barrage Thursday afternoon in front of a pro-Canadian crowd of 12,465 fans. Instead, they threw themselves at every French shot. Winnipeg's Desiree Scott saved one on the goal line, Carmelina Moscato just barely got her body behind another. McLeod had the wind knocked out of her after a brave clearance that sent her crashing into a French player.

"They were coming in waves and we stuck to our guns and we came out with the win," McLeod said.

-- The Canadian Press

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 10, 2012 C1

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