The Canadian women's soccer team has been through a lot following Monday's semifinal against the U.S. including threatened FIFA investigations and suspensions, attacks from American players and criticism from Canadian columnists. However, they still have a match to play Thursday against old rivals France (8 a.m. Eastern, CTV/RDS), one that should be one of Canada's Olympic highlights of the day, and the team's initial goal of a medal is still attainable. Moreover, Norwegian referee Christina Pedersen won't be involved, and her critics, including coach John Herdman and Canadian hero Christine Sinclair, will be able to take part. The controversy over Monday's game may play on for some time yet in the media and public spheres, but the team has shifted their focus to winning the bronze Herdman has guaranteed, and that's the right approach. France won't be an easy opponent to beat, but a strong, focused Canadian team has a real shot at bringing back Canada's first medal at a Summer Olympics in a traditional team sport since 1936.
There's a lot to like about this Canadian team, especially the way they've played in the knockout stages. Their 2-0 win over Britain in the face of a fervent crowd was nothing short of dominant, and they played an even better match in that 4-3 extra-time loss to the Americans Monday, one of the most memorable moments of these Olympics. Sinclair has long been seen as a superstar amongst the Canadian soccer media, but her amazing hat trick Wednesday (more goals than anyone else has ever scored against U.S. keeper Hope Solo over the course of their career) not only gave her the tournament goal-scoring lead with six goals, but also tied her with American striker Abby Wambach for second on the all-time international goals list, behind only U.S. legend Mia Hamm. It also made her perhaps the Canadian hero of these Games and kick-started the lobbying for her to carry the flag in the Closing Ceremonies, which would certainly be a deserving honour.
It's not all about Sinclair, though. Another Canadian who deserves high praise is Melissa Tancredi, who's third in tournament scoring with four goals and whose connection with Sinclair (a long-established one) has led to much of Canada's offence in this tournament. Midfielder Desiree "The Destroyer" Scott's physical play and superb tackling has been crucial as well, while the defence has done a remarkable job of standing tall despite a laundry list of injuries. This team has demonstrated offensive firepower, midfield possession and an often-solid defence, and if all of those components align Thusday, that could lead Canada to the podium.
The French can't be written off, however. For one thing, they have recent success against Canada; in fact, the 4-0 thumping they delivered to the Canadian women at last year's Women's World Cup directly led to the exit of Carolina Morace and the installation of Herdman. They also entered this tournament with a higher ranking, performed well in their group and gave Women's World Cup champions Japan a run for their money in Monday's other semifinal. France has a deep lineup, with Marie-Laure Delie, Laura Georges, Wendie Renard, and Élodie Thomis all notching a team-high goals thus far, and the Canadians will have to defend all of those players to pull off the win. If they're at all distracted or overconfident, this could be a disaster. However, the Canadians said all the right things Wednesday, including Tancredi's comment to TSN that "We have a job to do and we have to stay focused." If they can do that, Canada might just earn a medal here yet.