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'It was taken from us'

Ref's controversial call costs Canada shot at soccer gold

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MANCHESTER, England -- Canada's women's soccer team has suffered Olympic heartbreak once again at the hands of its archrival, in large part due to a controversial call by Norwegian referee Christiana Pedersen.

Alex Morgan scored in the 123rd minute Monday to lead the No. 1-ranked United States to a 4-3 victory over the seventh-ranked Canadians in the semifinals of the London Olympics, delivering a dagger in the heart of a squad that had paced the Americans goal for goal all night long.

Canada's captain, Christine Sinclair, recorded a hat trick -- goals No. 141 through 143 of her illustrious career -- to lead her team in what was almost a massive upset.

But as the possibility of penalty kicks loomed large, Morgan rose to meet a cross from Megan Rapinoe and deftly placed a header past Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod, continuing Canada's 11 years of hurt. Canada hasn't beaten its North American rival since 2001 -- a span of 27 games.

The result was made more painful by the call that led to the third American goal.

Abby Wambach scored on a penalty that came after the Americans were awarded a free kick outside the Canadian box by Pedersen when the Norwegian penalized McLeod for holding the ball for more than six seconds. Marie-Eve Nault was then charged with a handball in the penalty area on the ensuing kick.

"We feel like we didn't lose, we feel like it was taken from us," Sinclair said. "It's a shame in a game like that that was so important, the ref decided the result before it started."

Canadian coach John Herdman was livid with Pedersen.

"She'll have to sleep in bed tonight after watching the replays. She's got that to live with," he said "We'll move on from this. I wonder if she'll be able to.

"Two bizarre decisions. I've never seen a decision like that given," Herdman told CTVOlympics.ca. "An indirect free-kick without a real warning or a yellow card, just a bit random.And then the handball when something just gets blasted at you. Sometimes that's the way it is, you make your own luck."

The Canadian keeper was also not impressed by the impact of the refereeing decisions in the loss.

"We feel like we got robbed in this game," McLeod said in the CTV report. "The referee was very one-sided. She has to do what she has to do and believe in her decisions.

"The penalty decision was also very harsh," said McLeod. "But I'm very proud of the way we played. We outplayed the Americans for the entire game."

The Canadians will play France for the bronze medal on Thursday in Coventry, while the U.S. will battle Japan, 2-1 winners over the French in the other semifinal, fo the gold.

Canada will still play for its first medal in Olympic soccer history, and what would be the country's first Summer Games medal in a traditional team sport -- not counting rowing or equestrian -- since 1936.

Rapinoe added two goals for the U.S., in a gripping game played in the historic confines of Manchester United's Old Trafford Stadium.

Sinclair's first goal came in the 22nd minute when she collected a nice chip from Melissa Tancredi, cutting to the right past American defender Kelley O'Hara before firing the ball low and hard past American goalkeeper Hope Solo.

The two teams would trade goals in rapid-fire succession for the rest of the night, keeping the crowd of over 26,000 on the edge of its seat.

Rapinoe evened it up in the 54th minute on a corner kick that went straight in through the legs of Lauren Sesselmann -- who was parked on the near post -- and past McLeod.

Sinclair's second came in the 67th minute off a header from Melissa Tancredi that she launched perfectly into the far corner.

Rapinoe replied three minutes later, firing a shot from just inside the 18-yard box.

But the ultra-confident Sinclair -- playing with a steely glare all night long -- collected her third in the 73rd, a header off a corner kick from Sophie Schmidt.

"Christine, to come and score a hat trick in a semifinal of an Olympic Games against our biggest rivals and not to come away with something. . . there something that isn't right about it," Herdman said.

Wambach's penalty shot came just a minute later to even the score once again.

The Canadians were eliminated by the U.S. in their Olympic debut four years ago in Beijing, losing 2-1 in the quarter-finals in a game that went to extra time.

Their thrilling ride through the Summer Olympics comes just a year after the team was in total disarray, finishing 16th of 16 teams at the women's World Cup that led to the hiring of Herdman.

Sinclair tweeted earlier Monday: "Olympics. Semi final. Can vs USA. Old Trafford. Nothing else has to be said."

Too bad it wasn't happy ending.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 7, 2012 D1

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