The backdrop to the game, played on Monday in Manchester at Old Trafford, was that Canada had not beaten their opponents, an always-powerful United States team, in 11 years. Some 26 games without a win and it looked like that streak was finally going to be broken, that is until the Norwegian referee's decision intervened.
With 10 minutes left and Canada up 3-2 in one of the most exciting games women's soccer has produced, Pedersen called keeper Erin McLeod of Canada for holding the ball too long. Many soccer pundits did not know such a rule existed -decades in the game and I've never seen it applied - and even the U.S. coach
had never seen it called. No one amongst the broadcast or after the match could recall ever having seen the rule used and no one felt there was justification for Pedersen calling McLeod for it..
The rule exists but is never applied and yet on this day, with no warning given to McLeod from the ref, it was. However, McLeod's time with the ball did not seem overly long, not on the occasion she was called or throughout the game. She looked down field and then considered going short, but couldn't find a fullback free and then kicked down field, a split second after Pedersen had blown her whistle. Save for the whistle, it seemed routine.
The result of Pedersen's unusual call was an indirect free kick just outside the Canadian box and on the kick the ball struck Canadian defender Marie-Eve Nault and a hand ball was called. If it was a handball it was unintentional and should not have been called, further Pedersen ignored a similar play in the American box earlier that would have gone against the U.S.. In the ensuing kick, U.S. striker Abby Wambach converted and the game was tied.
Christine Sinclair: hat trick for Canada
Among other things, the call ruined an unbelievable display of dominance from Christine Sinclair, perhaps the best women's soccer has to offer. Whatever the U.S. managed, Sinclair countered. She began the scoring early, walking around two defenders and depositing a low show past Hope Solo, and after the U.S. tied it early in the second half, Sinclair put her club back into the lead. The U.S. tied again and a brilliant header by Sinclair gave her a hat trick and her country yet another lead, 3-2, setting the stage for Pedersen.
This takes nothing from the U.S., they fought hard and while at times outplayed, and the recipients of a gift from the ref at a crucial time, they still won it on a wonderful header from Alex Morgan just as the 30 minutes of extra time was to expire. But the real story was that Sinclair and her teammates could not beat the referee and after the game the Canadian players, and coach John Herdman, lamented having to take on the Americans and the lone Norwegian.
They certainly left the pitch the better side but while the U.S. will now play Japan for gold, Christiana Pedersen saw to it that Canada, despite finally outplaying their arch rivals and putting themselves in a position to win it all, will play France on Thursday for bronze.