Pitching in

Yesterday’s semi-final against the U.S. was possibly the biggest and most popular game of the Olympics in this country. The end result (and the free kick leading to a penalty) has caused so much hoopla that our Prime Minster Steven Harper felt compelled to comment on it — his sweater vest, however, remained silent.

Here are some thoughts:

  1. The Canadian women’s soccer team have been downright impressive throughout the Olympics, and not just yesterday. They are playing superb soccer that is a delight to watch.
  2. They have made quite a bounce back from the disappointment of last year’s world championship.
  3. Automatic penalties for unintentional and likely unavoidable handballs are ridiculous. Why this rule exists is beyond me. If a player was unable to avoid a handball that is very different than a hand of God moment. Referees (despite complaints about yesterday) should be given the discretion to decide when it was intentional — and this is usually pretty obvious. A penalty for an unintentional handball, especially at close distances when the ball would’ve hit the body anyways, is too severe. I hate this rule in general, not just in yesterday’s semi-final. The handball resulting in a penalty resulting in a goal in the euro quarter-final between Germany and Greece was ultimately unimportant but it could’ve been. The same goes for the handball call that result in a German penalty in their Euro semi-final against Italy — which also didn’t affect the outcome of the game. Losing on a call like that is hard for players to take, and for good reason. Rules should serve the integrity of the game, not detract from it. Punishments should also be proportional to infractions. A penalty should be called when a handball is used to intentionally alter the path of a ball, as opposed to incidental contact.
  4. I was not aware that there was a call for a goalie holding the ball for over six seconds. Why does this even exist and when will FIFA get rid of it? It seems as though time wasting is a sufficient call should a keeper be holding onto the ball for too long in order to delay play. This was not the case with the call against Canada. Once again the context for this was ignored and a punishment was given that was disproportionate to the infraction committed — if one was committed at all.
  5. Christine Sinclair is insanely good.
  6. I am pleased that the quality of the women’s game is so high that Canada, and large parts of the rest of the world can get caught up in it and love watching it. The Canadian women have exhibited skill that rivals that of the men’s sport.
  7. There is something unsettling about players counting next to referees baiting them to make calls that may be in the rule book but are never made in actual play. There is a line between wanting to win and being a fierce competitor, and respecting your sport and your opponent. My favourite American athlete at the Olympics so far is Sam Mikulak who placed fifth in the men’s gymnastics individual vault event. He showed excellent sportsmanship, and despite slipping to fourth and knowing he would probably drop another spot was very excited to watch the reigning world champion go for it. Loving your sport counts as much as the will to win.
  8. The Americans play a choppy and aggressive style of soccer that may get the job done but isn’t as nice to watch as more tactical and possession based approaches.
  9. The Canadians have a killer counter attack.
  10. The Canadians can deliver crosses like no body’s business.
  11. The Canadians could improve their possession and ball control from what they did against the Americans.
  12. I am glad that this game did not go to penalties. A late goal for either side is a much better decider. Penalties are lame, and a terrible way to lose a close match. Sudden death overtime is a much better way of deciding it.
  13. John Herdman has done an excellent job as team Canada’s coach. Regardless of what happens from here on out we can judge him by the quality of the soccer they are playing and it has been superb.
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