It was a match for the ages. A brave, spirited performance from underdogs, denied a famous win in controversial circumstances at one of world soccer's most iconic venues. It was one of the most enthralling games you are ever likely to see.
Monday's semi-final at the London 2012 Olympic Games left Canada heartbroken after a stoppage time winner in extra-time took the United States to the gold medal match later this week. A 4-3 defeat to the number one ranked team in the world is certainly no disgrace, but the manner in which the game was lost left the Canadians feeling cheated.
The major discussion point was the decision by the Norwegian referee Christina Pederson to award an indirect free kick to the U.S. inside the penalty area, which ultimately led to Abby Wambach tying the game for a third time with ten minutes of normal time left to play.
Canada goalkeeper Erin McLeod was penalized for holding the ball for more than six seconds, a call that rarely gets made in soccer. The only mitigating circumstance would have been if the referee had warned McLeod on a previous occasion during play that if she did that again she would be penalized.
I've got no problem with the six second rule, but if that's the rule, it has to get called every time. It doesn't. If it did there would likely be indirect free kicks like that on numerous occasions. It seemed such a random call, which is the main reason for Canada's frustration. As for the penalty call for handball, it's a lottery. Yes it was harsh, but you see those calls given or ignored depending on the referee.
Those two decisions went against Canada, but the referee had a poor game throughout.
It has to be said that while much of the focus was on the officiating, there were also a series of defensive mistakes that contributed to Canada's downfall.
The first U.S. goal just after halftime is one such example. There's no way at any level of the game that a goal should be conceded straight from a corner as happened when Megan Rapinoe tied it at 1-1. But each time the U.S. scored, Canada managed to find a response - until the knockout blow in the third minute of stoppage time.
Unfortunately, all the talk about the referee's decisions overshadowed an incredible individual display from Christine Sinclair. We shouldn't be surprised. Sinclair is world class and proved it once again on Monday. She is one of the greatest soccer players the women's game has ever seen. She is the ultimate professional and a total team player.
Sinclair's hat-trick takes her total to 143 international goals all-time and her tally for 2012 now stands at 22. When asked after the match if she had a message for Canada's fans, she said “sorry we let you down.” They didn't let anyone down.
Canada now has a chance to play for a medal against France on Thursday in Coventry. Before the tournament, that would have been seen as a success. Canada isn't the most skillful team in the tournament, but they won't be beaten when it comes to having the heart for a battle and representing their country with pride.
The Herdman Effect
Canada coach John Herdman deserves massive credit for the way he has got this team playing in the space of a year. I have had the chance to talk in depth with John on a number of occasions and he always comes across as someone who is very intelligent and thoughtful about the game. It starts with preparation. He leaves no stone unturned and is meticulous in his planning.
Perhaps the biggest success of his tenure so far has been the way in which he has managed to change the mindset of this Canadian team. After finishing the Women's World Cup last year in last place and without a win, Herdman inherited a despondent bunch of players. Over the last 12 months he has worked just as much on improving the mental aptitude of his squad as any other aspect of their game.
Even on Monday morning ahead of kickoff in Manchester, the squad was working with the team's mental trainer to prepare themselves fully for the task ahead. Herdman needed to ensure his players believed they could win against the United States and that they weren't just there to make up the numbers. We saw on the pitch at Old Trafford that the message was received loud and clear.