Canada had been a while between defeats of the U.S. women’s soccer team in a highly meaningful game, and it looked like the semi-finals of the London Games would finally be the next stage. Christine Sinclair left her mark on the world in this tournament and had a hat trick in this game. The entire team played a gutsy, endearing match. There was some spotty tackling on the part of the Americans yet the fouls ended 20 to the US against 19 for Canada, much closer than it should have been. There were corners awarded where there should have been goal kicks. The sheer emotion and intensity of the game grabbed the attention of the crowd, and it was clear anyon not already hoping for the United States had made the decision by half time to support the Canadians.
The one person in the stadium who should have remained neutral, Norwegian referee Christiana Pedersen, apparently decided to swing the other way.
In the first half, Canada was called for a handball in the American 18 yard box on what was clearly a ball to the upper chest/shoulder area. It didn’t really affect the play much, but it makes future decisions in the game all the more baffling.
In the 60th minute and the score knotted at 1-1, a cross went through the middle of the box for Christine Sinclair. Instead, it went blatantly off the middle of Megan Rapinoe’s arm. The referee didn’t see (ignored?) it.
Sinclair and Rapinoe soon exchanged goals before Sinclair completed her hat trick, heading in a corner kick feed to make it 3-2 Canada.
In the 77th minute with the lead and some momentum, Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod easily collected a U.S. corner kick. She got up, bounced the ball a few times, and then booted it up field. This would prove to be a huge turning point as she took more than the allowed 6 seconds to release the ball under Fifa rule 12.
I’ve counted it out. She took 10-11 seconds. Pretty standard issue stuff. That rule is there to stop major flagrant delays by a team up by a goal late in the game and does this more than once even after a clear warning. This rule isn’t to save 5 seconds in an emotional high stakes game where each goalie had broken this rule several times as all goalies do. There’s also a lot of interpretation. Does it start when the goalie touches the ball or does it start after the goalie has had time to recover from making the save and is ready to distribute the ball?
McLeod had been given a vague warning from the referee’s assistant at the half about keeping the game moving but there was nothing specific and definitely no indication of any extra discipline coming her way if she didn’t listen. There should have been a formal warning possibly accompanied by a yellow card.
instead, with American Abby Wambach counting in Pedersen’s ear, the official blew the whistle at 10 seconds, just as Mcleod was showing clear signs of releasing the ball.
On the indirect free kick at the Canadian penalty spot, the eventual shot went straight at the head area of Canadian defender Marie-Eve Nault. In one of the most obvious cases of ball to hand instead of hand to ball, Pedersen gifted the United States a penalty.
Full marks to Wambach for taking advantage with a nice finish from the spot, and full marks to the Americans for completing the comeback in extra time.
Canada did recover to take the bronze medal off of France, but this will go down as one the most shameful cases of Cinderella not getting to go to the ball.