The Canadian women's soccer team's quest for an Olympic medal got off to somewhat of a rocky start Wednesday with a 2-1 loss to reigning Women's World Cup champions Japan, but it's a goal that wasn't scored that could prove crucial down the line. With Canada already down 2-0, the Japanese looked sure to add a third in the 51st minute when Yuki Ogimi outmanoeuvred Canadian keeper Erin McLeod in the penalty area and sent a shot towards the open net, but defender Lauren Sesselmann lunged and cleared the ball off the line. As Timothy Burke's screencap at right shows, the play was very close (and who knows what goal-line technology would have shown here), but Sesselmann did enough to keep officials from signalling a goal. That kept the Canadians in the game and was soon followed by a 55th minute Melissa Tancredi goal that cut the deficit to one. Although Canada couldn't come all the way back, goal differential could prove crucial in the group standings and the subsequent matchups, so Sesselmann's effort here may play an important part in how far the Canadians ultimately go.
[Related: Canadian women fall in Olympic opener]
It's interesting that Sesselmann came up big for Canada here, as she's one of the more unusual stories around this team. Born in Stevens Point, Wisconsin and raised in nearby Green Bay, Sesselmann shone in the college ranks with Purdue and the professional ranks with F.C. Indiana, Sky Blue FC and the Atlanta Beat, but was passed over by the American national team. She acquired Canadian citizenship in 2010 through her father, though, and started playing for the Canadian national team in 2011 after head coach John Herdman took over the program, making her a remarkable contrast to the Canada-to-U.S. journey of Sydney Leroux. She's proven to be an important part of the team, but has had to battle back from a knee injury suffered against Haiti in qualifying. Wednesday's game was a solid all-around effort from her, though, and the goal she saved may prove critically important as time goes on. If there's a tie in the group standings or a question of which third-place teams are strongest, goal differential may make the difference between a favourable matchup and an unfavourable one, and a poor goal differential could even cause the end of a team's tournament.
Seventh-ranked Canada was always a bit of an underdog against the third-ranked Japanese, so a loss isn't all that stunning. In fact, this result may even prove better for the Canadians in the long run; if other teams' matchups play out as many anticipate, a second-place finish in Group F could leave the Canadians with a favourable quarterfinal draw against either Britain (mostly composed of the ninth-ranked English team) or 23rd-ranked New Zealand, while winning the group would likely set up a clash with sixth-ranked France and could potentially even lead to Canada facing the top-ranked Americans early in the elimination round. The U.S. squad's comeback to win 4-2 over France Wednesday is also good news for Canada, as it lessens the chances the two North American sides will meet early in this tournament. There's still a long way for the Canadians to go to claim second in the group, as they may have to knock off or at least tie fourth-ranked Sweden Tuesday and they'll have to take care of business against 61st-ranked South Africa Saturday, but a one-goal loss is far better for their cause than a more lopsided one would have been. For that, they have Sesselmann to thank.
More London Olympics content on Eh Game:
• Canadian's should adopt Great Britain's men's basketball team
• Canadian Olympic medal predictions
• This years modern pentathlon is slightly different