by Ciara McCormack
One didn’t know what to expect coming into the France-Canada game. Both teams were coming off emotional semifinal losses that battered the teams as much mentally as they did physically, with both playing games that seemed worthy of an appearance in the Olympic finals.
Yet the two halves of the game could not have been any more different.
The first half was arguably either a chess match as the teams felt each other out, or a product of two tired teams playing in their sixth game in two weeks. There were few chances as the Canadians were organized defensively, and were playing a composed game keeping possession through their back line but had little connection between their midfield and forward lines. On the other hand, the French did little to play to their strengths, knocking the ball around too slowly and doing little to expose spaces for the speed of Elodie Thomis. The only legitimate chances of the half came midway through with Christine Sinclair firing over the bar after a delicate outside of the foot pass from defender Rhian Wilkinson, and Thomis doing the same at the stroke of half time.
If the first half could put people to sleep, the second half was like an orchestra that started to play, whose momentum continued to build and build until a final crescendo at the cessation of the game.
The French began the second half, making it clear that they were hitting their rhythm, finally beginning to play to their strengths with quick ball movement, runs into space and releasing players to showcase their technique and taking the Canadians on 1 v 1 down the line. Thomis showed the skill and speed that has made her a danger all tournament, as she made a run down the right, and laid a pass into the path of Louisa Necib. Erin McLeod who had a solid game in net for the Canadians, held on to the ball off of the deflected drive.
France Coach Bruno Bini began to play his hand, grabbing onto the offensive momentum of his team, putting in both Camille Abily and Eugenie Le Sommer as the half progressed. Soon after Thomis showed her determination in having a hand in the result of the match, as she latched onto a ball that had been flicked on and drove through the Canadian defense half-volleying an effort off the cross bar and over. Chances came again and again for the French, first Abily in the 65th minute whose shot bounced off the post, and then Le Sommer, who wasted some great work by Thiney to release her in front of goal, only to see her effort fired over. Corine Franco seemed to finally give France the edge beating McLeod in the 71st minute, but Desiree Scott, who has had a fantastic tournament for the Canadians, showed her awareness in jumping off her post to get behind McLeod and clear the ball off the line. Franco again had more chances off of corner kicks, but put both of her efforts off target.
Yet if France played the metaphorical instruments for the entire second half, the Canadians snuck in to hit the final, most important note in the form of Diana Matheson. The most dimunitive player on the field, and one of Canada’s most consistent over the past decade (crucial assist to Charmaine Hooper in a 1-0 quarterfinal win over top team China in the 2003 World Cup, anyone?), showed her poise in shocking the French and doing what the French couldn’t do the entire match, as she calmly put the ball past Sarah Bouhaddi, latching on to a blocked Sophie Schmidt shot, eight yards from goal.
It could be said that the Canadians feeling robbed by the United States in their last game committed their own robbery against the stunned French. France outshot the Canadians 18-4, and the Canadians proved the beauty of the game, as their only shot on goal in the game was the one that mattered, as it sent Canada home with their first Olympic team medal since 1936.