Canada had already scored all the goals it needed for a date with destiny and a shot at a rare Summer Olympics team medal.
But the sequence in the 72nd minute Friday really summed up how head coach John Herdman’s team has matured during the course of the women’s soccer competition.
With Great Britain pressing – and most of a crowd of 28,828 in full voice – goalkeeper Erin McLeod jumped to catch a ball in the box and looked around. There were defenders Carmelina Moscato, Rhian Wilkinson and Lauren Sesselmann perfectly positioned, making “settle down” motions with their hands. And not a Brit in sight.
This was one of their finest hours, make no mistake.
Canada advanced to a semi-final match Monday against the United States at Old Trafford (home of Manchester United) with a 2-0 win over Great Britain at City of Coventry Stadium.
Canada hasn’t won a medal in a traditional team sport since a men’s basketball silver in 1936.
A victory over the U.S. would put it into the gold-medal game. A loss and it will play the loser of the Japan– Brazil semi-final for the bronze.
Christine Sinclair’s 140th career international goal, on a free kick inside the left post in the 26th minute, was the telling blow after Jonelle Filigno’s bullet volley off a Sophie Schmidt corner kick in the 12th shocked the British team and the pro-British crowd.
The crowd hooted and jeered the Canadians, who were uncompromising in midfield and on defence. Rhian Wilkinson bulldozed British forward Eniola Aluko in the 81st minute without getting a penalty and midfielder Desiree Scott had the game of her career.
“Canada muscled us out of the game,” British coach Hope Powell said.
It surely did.
“You do what you have to do to win,” Wilkinson said. “They had us on the back foot in the final 45 minutes, and we knew we just had to survive it. I guess we threw our weight around quite a bit.”
The performance will come as a shock to those who remember the brittle psyche of the group that finished 16th out of 16 teams at the 2011 World Cup.
“What I’ve been able to do is develop a ‘grow culture,’ where there’s a culture of improvement every day,” Herdman said.
“There’s been an empowerment across the group to take responsibility for the performances. We’ve put destiny in their hands and they’ve embraced it.
“In previous regimes or coaching experiences, the coach has been the centre or the fountain of knowledge. We’ve placed them at the fountain of knowledge and the coaches are there to support them.”
Canada’s defensive strength is remarkable considering the makeshift nature of its back line due to injuries.
Scott, nicknamed The Destroyer, has blossomed under Herdman. She’s gone from a square peg to a tailor-made defensive midfielder, freed from what the coach called her “performance cage.”
The British had no answer for her.
“We’ve had some injuries and its kind of brought us back together,” said Sinclair, who practices her free kick more than a dozen times at the end of each practice.
Sinclair joked the only way playing the Americans at Old Trafford would be better is “if it was at Anfield,” home of Liverpool FC.
She thinks her team is ready for the challenge.
“Were the fittest we’ve ever been and facing them in game No. 5 will help us. Were just enjoying the ride,” the Canadian striker said. “People are running on the field until they can’t run any more and that wouldn’t have happened in the past.”