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With one very notable exception, the history of Canada's golden generation of women's soccer has been a hard-luck tale.

Finishing last in the 2011 World Cup after Christine Sinclair had her nose broken in the opener; being cheated out of a chance for gold at London 2012; a ragged, disappointing effort in a home World Cup last summer.

The one moment fortune shone on Canada also came in London – the bronze-medal game against France. The Canadians were badly outplayed, had but one shot on goal and probably should have lost. Yet they won. After all they'd been through, that seemed more than fair.

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On Friday, they did something very similar against the same ill-fated opponent. Though out-hustled, outclassed and out-chanced over long stretches, Canada beat France 1-0.

The Canadian Soccer Association looooves its corporate-action plans. Maybe the next one should be: "We Want to Play France At Every Olympics. Just France."

Canada moves on to face Germany, a team it has already beaten here, on Tuesday. The winner advances to the gold-medal match.

How did this happen? Despite having watched it, it's a little hard to say.

The first pleasant surprise – the referee was a big help. Uruguayan Claudia Umpierrez is one of those micro-managing officials who spots all the things that don't matter, and misses many of the things that do.

In the 10th minute, France should have had a penalty. The only way Kadeisha Buchanan could have more clearly fouled Eugénie Le Sommer in the area was if she'd hit her with a crowbar. Umpierrez gestured for Le Sommer to get up. Le Sommer sat there and quite literally pounded the earth.

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As it is wont to do, France proceeded to stroke it around in midfield while Canada chased. It was occasionally a bit of a clinic.

In the first half, the one Canadian player who looked really up for it was fullback Allysha Chapman. Well, she was right up until a French player landed on her like she was coming off a turnbuckle, knocking Chapman out of the game.

France dictated the pace, had the chances, and defended with ease. It was all headed in the wrong direction.

And then it came together in one of those pristine movements that only make sense in replay. In the 56th minute, the ball was stroked up to 21-year-old Janine Beckie. She turned near the touchline at an impossible angle with a French defender right on top of her. Beckie dinked the ball over her marker, back onto her own foot and lofted it up toward goal. Sophie Schmidt was there to knock in a very difficult roofing shot.

But it was Beckie's cheeky pass to herself that startled. It was more than a little reminiscent of a local product's defining play – Pele's legendary up-over-and-around move at the 1958 World Cup final. Pele scored on that one, but Beckie's bit of skill was of similar quality.

The goal connected two streams of the Canadian women's program – the recent past (Schmidt, 28) and the hopeful future (Beckie, 21).

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Seconds later, Sinclair headed a French free kick back onto her own crossbar.

That Canada's talisman missed is proof that she does from time to time, and especially when it matters most.

The remainder of the contest was a nervous rearguard action, though Canada stiffened with great purpose. This team has looked occasionally dominant here in Brazil, but this half-hour was its most impressive display. In the past, the Canadians might've folded under pressure. Here, they proved to themselves they can win ugly over better sides.

They'll need that belief going forward, though a little less today.

Canada's victory – world No. 10 by FIFA rankings over world No. 3 – will have sent a small tremor through women's soccer. The earthquake occurred in Brasilia, where the United States lost on penalties to Sweden.

The Americans have won the past three Olympic golds in this sport, and four of five. Olympic women's soccer is essentially a branch office of the USOC. Now that they're gone, anything might happen. The game itself may be moving in some as-yet-undetermined direction away from its recent redoubts.

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You could feel that change in the way U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo reacted to the loss. During penalty kicks, she'd tried to freeze out the final Swedish taker by changing her gloves. There's gamesmanship and then there's whatever that was. Give the Americans this much – they are always in the vicinity of things that should not happen in soccer at the Olympics.

Later, Solo would call the Swedes "a bunch of cowards" and said, "The best team did not win." This seems to suggest that defending is somehow craven. If so, that will be depressing news to every quality side in the history of the game.

By nightfall, the whole world was rightly climbing up Solo's back, pretending to be surprised.

If you have followed her career at all, you'll know there may be no sorer loser in all of sports. She's only lasted this long because she's good and all she's done is win.

But Solo's 35 now and more trouble than she's worth. In all likelihood, she effectively retired on Friday.

She knows the unseen plates are moving and teams you would not expect are slipping beneath them and being crushed.

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The United States was one; France another. The last superpower standing is Germany. That semi may be the de facto final.

If so, Canada will want to continue riding its self-generated luck. Like someone on a hot streak at a craps table, we are suddenly the roller you want to put your money on.

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