Jessie Fleming’s goal gives Canada a 1-0 win, sends them to 1st-ever Olympic final.
After the celebration had ended and the Canadian players started to make their way to the locker room, Captain Christine Sinclair stayed a little longer.
She was lying on the Kashima Stadium grass alone, soaking in the moment.
Relief. Excitement. Redemption.
“We finally won. For those of us who were part of the 2012 game, it was nice to get a little revenge in an Olympic semifinal,” Sinclair said.
Nine years after heartbreak and controversy at Old Trafford at London 2012, the Canadian women’s soccer team defeated the number-one ranked the United States 1-0 in their semifinal on Monday at the Tokyo Games.
The only goal of the match came off the boot of Jessie Fleming of London, Ont., who converted a penalty kick in the 74th minute.
Fleming was cool under pressure, delivering a perfect strike that sent Canada into the championship game.
“I was confident where I was going to go. I usually pick the spot the night before,” Fleming said of her kick.
“It’s just one kick. Trusting myself. Took a deep breath. I knew I could do it.”
Gold-medal match awaits
Canada now moves on to play in the Olympic gold-medal match for the first time in the country’s history.
After all the battles over all the years for Canada on the pitch, Sinclair beamed as she spoke to the media.
“Our goal coming here was to change the color. Two back-to-back bronzes. We were kind of sick of that. And this team, wow. What a performance. What a fight. One more to go,” she said.
Fleming’s goal was made possible because of a video review in the second half — it was ruled Canada’s Deanne Rose was taken down in the penalty area by Tierna Davidson and Canada was awarded a penalty kick.
“It’s really special to get to contribute to the win. There’s a group of players on our team who have worked on this for 20 years. Seeing them cry after that match means so much,” she said.
“We hear you back home. Thank you for the support.”
Rare victory comes at clutch time
This marks just the second time ever the United States are not advancing to the championship game. The Americans had played in every final since 1996 except once, in the last Games in Rio.
This was only the fourth Canadian win over the USA in 62 meetings.
This victory came inside an empty Kashima Stadium on a hot and humid Monday afternoon in Japan. The Canadians celebrated wildly on the lush pitch, huddling around one another and dancing and yelling and singing.
“Indescribable. I remember asking the ref how much time? How much time? When that final whistle blew I just dropped to my knees in pure joy. Thank goodness. Thank goodness for this moment,” said Desiree Scott.
“This is fricken incredible.”
‘Change the colour’
Canada will play Sweden in the gold-medal match, which goes Friday morning at 11 a.m. in Japan, 10 p.m. ET on Thursday in Canada.
The rallying cry coming from Canada into these Games was “change the colour” after back-to-back bronze medals. Now they have their chance.
“I’m just so proud of this team. It’s a unique group. It’s a special group. One that I’m so honoured and proud to be a part of. We fight for everything,” Sinclair said.
“I was talking to Desi Scott and we were saying we’ve been waiting nine years for this chance to have this game again. And that we were going to do everything possible to have a different outcome. We did.”
Much of the play early in the match was in Canada’s end of the pitch as the powerhouse Americans were wanting to apply pressure in the high-stakes game — in fact, for the first 10 minutes the Canadians struggled to move the ball past midfield.
The play was physical, feisty and it was clear the player’s emotions were running high.
Canada’s first somewhat threatening chance came 14 minutes into the game when Nichelle Prince was trying to track down a ball in the U.S.’s penalty area but was thwarted.
That charge from Prince seemed to spark the Canadians, getting rewarded for their much more organized play with two corners.
“I’m so proud of my team. They’re my best friends. I’m so glad we’re bringing back a better medal than bronze,” said player Quinn, who goes by one name.
“I’m doing this for the people I grew up looking up to. Like Sincy.”
American goalkeeper injured
At the 19-minute mark, U.S. keeper Alyssa Naeher shot into the air to clear away a threatening ball from Canada and landed awkwardly on her right knee. She was down on the pitch for minutes before getting up and putting weight on her right leg.
After a delay of more than seven minutes, she was good to go and stayed in the match — but it lasted only minutes. After one kick, Naeher was visibly in pain and left the game.
Adrianna Franch took over the rest of the way.
After a frantic few minutes, the game settled down as both teams found their footing. Not a single shot on target was registered for either side in the first half.
An old score settled
Sinclair and Scott were the only two players on the pitch Monday for Canada who were also on the pitch nine years earlier at Old Trafford for that infamous game.
Sinclair put forward one of the greatest performances ever by a Canadian soccer player that day, scoring a hat trick. But it wasn’t enough.
What happened that day on the pitch in August of 2012 will never be forgotten.
Those chaotic late minutes in the game, laced with confusion, chaos and frustration still linger.
In what can only be described as a baffling call made by referee Norwegian referee Christiana Pedersen, Canadian keeper Erin McLeod was penalized for a delay of game for holding the ball for more than six seconds. It’s a call rarely ever made.
The Americans were awarded a free kick outside the Canadian. On that kick Canada’s Marie-Eve Nault was charged with a handball in the penalty area.
Abby Wambach of the United States tied the game.
After the game, then coach John Herdman was livid.
“She’ll have to sleep in bed tonight after watching the replays. She’s got that to live with,” he said on that August day. “We’ll move on from this, I wonder if she’ll be able to.”
The team has moved on. Sinclair has moved on.
Canada is moving on to the championship game.
“Job one is done for us, changing the colour,” Sinclair said.
“Now that we’re in the final we go for it. We’re ready.”
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