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Christine Sinclair (CAN) of Canada celebrates scoring a goal with teammates.


There were two very distinct ways to look at the Canadian women's soccer team's remarkable bronze-medal performance against Brazil on Friday. Our perspective; and theirs.

This wasn't at all like London 2012 in the build-up – that was a drag-yourself-there-on-your-hands-and-knees sort of effort. That was a vertical climb.

Rio 2016 was measured by comparison – difficult in stretches, but never overwhelming. It also helped that none of the referees suffered a mental break in the middle of a match.

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Afterward, it was exactly the same. The same overwhelmed reactions. The same tears. The same mugging and joy. For the second time, Christine Sinclair gave coach John Herdman her medal to wear.

Your guide to the Olympic Games: What you need to know today

Afterward, the greatest player in our history cried. Again. Which she doesn't often do.

"It's been a hard year for me," Sinclair said. "I was not going to leave this tournament without a medal around my neck."

Sinclair's 33. She gave no indication she's thinking of hanging them up. Rather the opposite. She called this tournament "just the beginning."

(When Sinclair was asked about her future, Herdman blurted out, "Goalkeeping." It was a joke. Maybe.)

Some things had changed, but Canada was in the same comfortable spot.

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Its platform has only grown. The roster will have to be turned over, but Canada has the luxury of moving from strength to greater strength. This was its most rounded unit yet. The best parts of it were its youngest.

The brightest players during Friday's 2-1 win were Jessie Fleming (18), Ashley Lawrence (21) and Deanne Rose (17). Canada's top scorer in the tournament, 21-year-old Janine Beckie, didn't even start. She didn't need to.

The veterans – Sinclair, Diana Matheson (32), Melissa Tancredi (34) – did what is hardest at this level. They moved aside and let the newcomers control the game. When it tightened up at the end, they provided the emotional ballast that can only be acquired with experience. It was, in the best possible sense, a team effort.

Whatever iteration Canada sends to Tokyo 2020 will be exponentially better for it.

This felt like a last hurrah and an introduction simultaneously. In terms of transitional moments, it could not have gone any better.

As such, Herdman deserves a great deal of credit. Leaping from atop an elevator going down, he stuck the landing on one going in the other direction.

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You don't often get to say it, so let's enjoy it while we can – things are really looking up for Canadian soccer.

And while you were thinking that, you could not help but glance over sympathetically at Brazil.

While this was a lovely Canadian moment in the midst of many others at this Olympics, it was an epic disaster for Brazilian women's soccer.

Locals filled Sao Paulo's Arena Corinthians on Friday. For many of these people, it may have been the first time they had ever seen Canada play anything. The idea that they could be bested at their national game by a collection of off-duty Mounties and Beliebers did not seem to occur to them.

After the first Canadian goal went in – a magnificent length-of-the-field effort masterminded by Lawrence and slotted by Rose – the air went out of them for a moment. Then they resumed their stadium picnic.

You could tell these were not real Brazilian soccer fans because a few of them stuck around for the medal ceremony. These were soccer sojourners, enjoying a pleasant day out.

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If Brazil's men's team loses on Saturday, that stadium will empty like there's a fire drill before they hand out the prizes. That's the difference between the way men's and women's soccer is perceived in this country.

Herdman was already talking about his plans: "Canada's just started as a country in terms of what we can achieve."

Brazil's manager, Vadao, a man who's coached at every level in Brazil, was reduced to begging.

He begged for money. He begged for his job. He begged for someone to care.

He ended every one of his answers – whether it fit the question or not – with a call for "continued support." The strong inference was that the "continued" part of that was more than a little hopeful.

Every Brazilian is a fan of soccer. A perishing few of them follow the women's game. When asked how he would explain to them losing to a nation of hockey players rather than a notable fellow power like Argentina or Germany, Vadao was confused by the question.

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"If we had lost to Argentina, it would be a lot worse," he said.

No, it wouldn't. Because however much they hate them, Brazilians recognize Argentina as a peer. Though we are a world power in the women's game, the average Brazilian won't see that. For them, losing to Canada at soccer is like losing to Greenland at volleyball. It does not compute.

Whatever advances they'd made with their performances in the early stages here, Brazil's women's team finishes with nothing. It will be invisible again by tomorrow. You could see that on their faces as it ended. There were no tears or other strong emotions. Their Olympics ended when they lost the chance for gold. Fourth is no different than third.

It's so different for us. It is a very Canadian thing to celebrate a bronze and then run ourselves down for treating it like a win.

(Whatever "win" is supposed to mean in that context. If I'd finished dead last at anything at any Olympics, I'd have the rings tattooed on my forehead.)

Watching Brazil do its final lap around the stadium like it was a funeral march was a reminder that getting excited about medals that aren't gold isn't something we have to do. It's something we get to do.

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They matter because Canadians care, which in turn allows the athletes to care, which in turn allows them to put in a performance like Canada did on Friday in a game that won't get it to the top of a podium.

Whenever you doubt the power of that, look at Brazil. It won't be missing the bronze medal it lost. And that's part of the problem.

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