Friday, August 15, 2008

Canada - U.S. Olympic soccer live blog

Well, here we are with the promised Canada – U.S. quarterfinal liveblog. Apologies for the late posting of the first few entries: the technical gremlins from last time returned to eat my Internet connection, so I had to write the first 20 minutes or so offline and post it once I got the connection working.

First half:

0: It looks like a miserable day out in Shanghai: the rain is pouring down and the pitch appears rather a bloody mess. Some notes on formations from the official start list: it looks like the U.S. has opted to play defensive with a 4-5-1, while Canada counters with a 3-4-3. The lone American striker is Amy Rodriguez, who's just 21. Here's the starting lineups:

U.S.: Hope Solo in goal, Heather Mitts, Christie Rampone (wearing the captain's armband), Kate Markgraf and Lori Chalupny on defence, Lindsay Tarpley, Shannon Boxx, Heather O'Reilly, Carli Lloyd and Angela Hucles in midfield, and Amy Rodriguez up front.

Canada: Erin McLeod in the net, with Emily Zurrer, Candace Chapman and Martina Franko starting on defence, Claire Rustad, Sophie Schmidt, Rhian Wilkinson and Diana Matheson in midfield, and Christine Sinclair, Kara Lang and Melissa Tancredi up front.

3: Not a great start for Canada: the U.S. has them under pressure right off the bat. It looks like the Americans are determined to control possession the way the Swedes did, and the Canadians are letting them win the midfield battle so far.

7: A tremendous chance for American midfielder Angela Hucles from 12 yards out, but she fires over the net. A good slide to get in the way by Canadian defender Emily Zurrer perhaps forced the error.

10: The U.S. continues to dominate both the possession and the scoring chances. Not a great start from Canada so far.

12: Goal, U.S. And the Americans are rewarded for their offensive pressure with the first goal of the match. Hucles makes up for her earlier miss and notches this one from close range. Perhaps even more worrying for the Canadians than falling behind is what looks like a bad injury to goalkeeper Erin McLeod, who seems to have collided with Hucles and gotten the worst of it.

19: The rain is really pouring down now, and it probably matches the mood of the Canadians. McLeod is taken off and replaced by Karina LeBlanc. LeBlanc is a good keeper, but McLeod had an outstanding tournament to this point and has been one of the key core group of Canadian stars for quite some time: losing her will hurt.

21: And the thunder and lightning starts, so Swedish referee Jenny Palmqvist calls the players off the pitch. Looks like it will probably be a considerable delay. That's the funny thing about these widely spread venues: CBC's flashed back to their main studio in Bejing, where it looks like an absolutely gorgeous day: quite a contrast from the thunderstorm in Shanghai. In any case, the game's delayed, and that's probably a good call by the referee: the pitch conditions look atrocious, and you don't ever want to play a match around lightning. CBC's gone over to baseball coverage for the moment, but it sounds like they'll return when the soccer match begins again. The internet gremlins seem to be hibernating for the moment, so I'll keep things updated whenever anything happens in the soccer match.

Rain delay update #1: It's now 4:10 a.m. PT (7:10 a.m. ET), so the game's been delayed for almost an hour now, and there's no signs of anything changing yet. CBC's shifted over to track, while TSN's taken the baseball broadcast.

In a weird way, this delay might actually prove a blessing for the Canadians. They looked outclassed in the first 20 minutes: now's an ideal time for them to regroup, figure out what went wrong and get motivated to right it when the game resumes. The other thing is playing from a goal down might motivate them to employ a more possession-oriented offensive style, which many Canadian observers have been calling for (as I pointed out in my Out of Left Field preview), instead of waiting for counterattack opportunities. A long delay probably isn't as good for Canada, though: it's hard to keep that motivation and fire over a longer stretch of time. Let's hope things get going again soon.

Rain delay update #2: CBC anchor Scott Russell just announced that they've heard that the match is supposed to resume at 8:00 a.m. ET (5:00 a.m. PT). Let's hope so. It sounds like CBC's planning to return to soccer coverage: what will be interesting to watch is if they show the whole game, as their regular Olympic morning show ends at 9 a.m. ET and there's no way this match will be done by then. Let's hope they don't pull a Heidi or a Preakness pre-race on this country's soccer fans. In the meanwhile, there's a pretty good baseball game going on on TSN: Canada's trailing South Korea 1-0 in the seventh. I'm just waiting for Langley product Brett Lawrie to save the day with a trademark mammoth home run.

Rain delay update #3: And we're back, right at 5 a.m. PT as promised. Looks like the rain has largely stopped, but CBC announcer Nigel Reed has some concerns about the pitch. Commentator Jason de Vos thinks it will be all right though due to the advanced drainage system, saying, "You can hardly tell that it's wet."

23: Martina Franko makes a great run forward into the American 18-yard box, but some skillful defending from Markgraf sees a free kick for the Americans.

24: Update on McLeod: She's apparently sustained a knee injury, which is never good. Reed has an interesting piece of trivia, though: LeBlanc is one of only four players still on the Canadian team who were there for the last win over the U.S. back in 2001. I'm guessing the others are Randee Hermus, Martina Franko and possibly Amy Walsh.

25: Another good chance for the Americans after they break into the box, but Franko defends well and gives LeBlanc enough time to make the save.

27: Goal, Canada. Team captain Christine Sinclair scores with a long-range blast from 20 yards out. Now that's leading by example! That's her 95th goal for Canada, and as Reed commented, "Has she ever scored a more important one?" Sinclair got absolutely all of that one: that's one of the few long goals that you can't blame a keeper for allowing. It's the Canadians' first shot of the game and off their first real chance. The U.S. has dominated the play, but at the end of the day, only the scoreboard matters, and that's all level again.

33: A great ball through for Angela Huclus, who's wide open in the Canadian box, but can only manage to send a weak effort wide. Huclus hasn't had much of a finishing touch today despite her goal: as de Vos commented, "She should have had a hat trick by now."

36: The lone American striker, Amy Rodriguez, makes her presence felt with a long run into the Canadian 18-yard box and a determined battle for the ball. Franko shows the benefits of veteran experience, though, defending well and forcing Rodriguez to concede a free kick.

40: It's a little concerning that the main Canadian attack still seems to be the long-ball strategy: that doesn't often work against a team like the U.S. I'd like to see more of a midfield buildup to each attack and better use of the flanks: the main offensive thrust seeems to be through the middle at the moment, and the American central defenders are handling that well.

45: Canada's still trying to go up the middle through the air, and the American central defenders are more than up to stopping them. Wide strikers Kara Lang and Christine Sinclair aren't close enough to Melissa Tancredi in the middle, so most of the time, it's one against two, which the offence doesn't often win.

47: And, after two-and-a-half hours, we're finally at the half. It's a good match so far, made much better by that out-of-nowhere blast from Sinclair to equalize. For halftime reading, I recommend Globe writer Jeff Blair's blog post about his trip to the stadium, the epic nature of this rainstorm and the difficulties involved in translating baseball pitches.

Halftime: Well, Canadian women's soccer obviously isn't Scott Russell's first sport: he said that Sinclair's 130th cap tied her with Charmaine Cooper for the all-time Canadian lead. Uh, that would be Charmaine Hooper, only one of the most famous and controversial Canadian women's athletes. Not to bash Russell too much: he usually does a good job of covering a variety of different sports, and that was an interesting piece of trivia that I didn't know. It just would have been better if he'd gotten the name right.

Second half:

45: An interesting halftime substitution from Canadian manager Even Pellerud. He brings Brittany Timko on for Melissa Tancredi. Timko has excelled as a forward before, winning the Golden Boot at the 2004 U-19 World Championships, but she's been used as a midfielder more frequently lately. If she's coming into the midfield, that gives Canada a 3-5-2 formation, which suggests that they might be trying for more of a possession game.

50: Sinclair makes a good run, but is felled by a tackle 25 yards out. No free kick awarded, though. Reed and de Vos say Timko's playing wide left in the midfield, while Kara Lang has moved up to the lone striker role and Sinclair's playing right behind her, making this actually more of a 3-5-1-1.

52: The U.S. is again putting on some pressure. Good defending by the Canadians, especially Zurrer, who does well to clear a dangerous ball from the area. At the other end, Sinclair makes a run and lets fly from about 25 yards out, the distance at which she scored last time, but her shot is blocked by a sliding defender.

55: Canada seems to be utilizing the flanks more effectively now. Timko made a great run wide left to sneak behind the defence and Sinclair found her with a beautiful chip. It came to nothing in the end, but it's a promising side.

57: Rhian Wilkinson concedes a free kick to the Americans just outside the left side of the Canadian 18-yard box. Hucles takes it short and sets up Carli Lloyd, who fires wide from a sharp angle.

59: A great American cross finds midfielder Lindsay Tarpley in the Canadian box, right near the far post, but she's in too close to get a shot off. Tarpley finds Rodriguez in front, and her shot deflects high off Candace Chapman for an American corner. Sinclair makes a great play to head the resulting corner clear, though.

61: Another solid point from de Vos, as he points out that the pressure is now on the U.S. with the game still tied this late. A loss for Canada is expected: a loss for the Americans would be catastrophic.

62: Martina Franko concedes another corner to the U.S. after sliding to block a cross. The corner's cleared, but the Canadians will have to be careful: the U.S. can be deadly from set pieces.

63: Amy Rodriguez shows her speed, racing back to steal a ball from Candace Chapman deep in the Canadian end. The Canadian defence can't afford to be casual with the ball when she's around. That almost was catastrophic, as the Americans created a good chance off the steal.

64: The U.S. is really putting the pressure on now, and Canada's creating few chances of their own. Rodriguez is making things very difficult for the Canadian defenders. Franko made a crucial tackle on her from behind, but conceded another corner.

65: A great ball in from Hucles to Shannon Boxx off the corner, but Boxx heads wide of the far post from six yards out. That easily could have been a goal. Canada is really on the defensive now.

67: One really impressive thing about this American attack is how much pressure they're putting on with only a few players. They only have the one striker on the field in Rodriguez, and only a couple of midfielders are going all the way forward to support her. The defence is hanging back to guard against the possibilities of counter-attacks. Canada won't be able to catch them napping, so they may need to rely on a possession approach instead of just the long ball.

69: Boxx finds Rodriguez in the 18-yard-box, and she makes a great play to set up Tarpley, who is undefended about eight yards out from the right Canadian post. However, Tarpley foolishly decides to pass instead of going for goal, and the Canadians clear.

70: Yellow card to Franko after a poorly-timed challenge. Franko's been making a lot of sliding tackles today, so this was perhaps inevitable. Her experience means she usually gets them right, but she doesn't really seem to have the foot speed anymore.

71: Hucles breaks through and is in alone on LeBlanc, who bravely comes out to challenge. However, Hucles hangs on for too long and then drills a shot right at LeBlanc, who is able to parry it and then collect the rebound with some help from the defence. Hucles really should have had a couple of goals by now: as de Vos commented, "Hucles has had four glorious opportunities today and has only managed to score on one of them." Poor finishing on her part.

74: Interestingly, that same strategy of going through the middle that's currently failing Canada is working well for the U.S., as most of their attacks are coming from the centre. Part of that is Canada's formation, which only features one central defender, but another part is the great job Rodriguez and her supporting midfielders are doing. They're working brilliantly in tandem, drawing the Canadian defenders in and then finding the open player. Due to the limited players the Americans are bringing forward, Canada usually has the superior numbers on defence, but the clever skill and trickery the U.S. players are displaying make up for that.

78: The first Canadian chance in a long time, as Matheson steals the ball in the American half. Her through ball lacks quality, though, and is recovered by the U.S. Sinclair then lets fly from 30 yards out, and forces American goalkeeper Hope Solo into a diving save. She didn't get all of that one, though: if she'd hit it as hard as the first one, she probably would have had another goal.

79: Nigel Reed on how the prolonged match is causing pressure to build on the favoured Americans, who have dominated much of the game but have little to show for it: "They should have put this one to bed by now. They've had the opportunities, but they only have one in the goal column." Indeed, but at the end of the day, the goal column is the only one that matters.

82: Dangerous ball in from the Americans, and LeBlanc decides to punch it out instead of knocking it over the bar or hanging on to it. A bad decision, as the ball goes right to an American attacker. Fortunately, she can't control it, Carli Lloyd goes offside, and the Canadians recover.

82: Substitution, U.S. Tobin Heath on, Lindsay Tarpley off. Tarpley had squandered several vital chances throughout the game.

84: Kara Lang is booked for a challenge on Lori Chalupny. The game's starting to get a bit physical now, as the rivalry between the two sides heats up.

85: A great play by Rodriguez, who outwits two Canadian defenders with some moves down the left-hand side. Her cross in is over the head of Heather O'Reilly, though.

86: O'Reilly gets another good chance off a cross, but heads it wide.

87: Lang sends a great ball through for Timko, who almost knocks it in for Canada. However, Solo makes a great play to come out and grab the ball. Timko gets tripped up by Christie Rampone and crashes into Solo. Timko's now down on the pitch getting some treatment: hopefully, she'll be okay. If she needs to be replaced, that will be Canada's final substitution.

88: Reed thinks Solo may have inadvertently caught Timko in the ribcage with a knee, which seems quite possible. Timko's still on the ground wincing in pain. Good for her for going in hard, but those are the risks you take.

90: Timko's up now and limping off. She looks like she may be able to continue: perhaps she just got the wind knocked out of her.

91: As action resumes, Franko almost makes a critical error, giving the ball away to Rodriguez just outside the Canadian box. However, she recovers quickly with a great sliding tackle and clears the ball. It's been announced that there will be three minutes of stoppage time. If no one scores, we go to extra time, and we'll have to play a full 30 minutes.

92: Substitution, Canada: 17-year-old midfielder Jonelle Filigno comes on for Timko. The Americans then get a great chance, but LeBlanc makes a brilliant play, coming outside of her box to clear from Rodriguez.

93: Sinclair then gets a great chance for Canada at the other end, but the Americans respond with an almost-breakaway for the dangerous Rodriguez. Karina LeBlanc makes a sprawling fingertip save on the goal line, pushing the ball wide for a corner. The corner is long and high, and we're going to extra time.

Extra time, first half:

90: Substitution, U.S.: Natasha Kai comes on. She scored a hat-trick against Canada in a friendly back in May this year (which earned her Deadspin immortality). As she's a striker, it looks like they're going to a 4-4-2, which makes sense: the U.S. won't want to risk the unpredictable nature of penalties, so they'll probably go for goal a bit more. That might give Canada more of a counter-attack chance.

92: Canada creates a few decent chances early, but nothing too notable.

94: A great run from the U.S., but Zurrer makes a tremendous tackle from behind in the box to knock the ball out for a corner. That was risky: she could have conceded a penalty if she mistimed it. Still, a good piece of defending in the end. The corner falls to Kai, who volleys high from six yards out.

97: Rodriguez gets a good shot off, but fires it wide.

100: Canadian midfielder Rustad lets fly from long range, but it's wide. Her shot appeared to hit a U.S. player's foot, but no corner is given.

101: Goal, U.S. A superb cross in from the left finds Kai unmarked in the box, and she makes no mistake with a header from six yards out. I think it was Zurrer who was marking her and was caught just a step behind. That's the way to have an impact as a substitute. Canada will really have to go for goal now, but there's still plenty of time.

103: Another blast from the U.S., and LeBlanc makes another great save. She's done a tremendous job coming in off the bench, and the lone goal she conceded certainly wasn't her fault.

Extra time, second half:

106: Kai gets another great chance right off the bat, but doesn't get enough on the shot.

107: Rodriguez sets up Lloyd, but Sophie Schmidt does a great job of sliding in to block her shot.

108: Lloyd lets fly from 25 yards, but it's straight at LeBlanc, who makes the save. The Americans clearly aren't content with a one-goal lead, and that's probably wise: after all, the best defence is a good offence.

109: Rodriguez is again creating chances deep in the Canadian end, but she's called for offside.

109: Substitution, U.S. Rodriguez comes off, Lauren Cheney comes on. Rodriguez had a great game and was one of the Americans' most dangerous players, so taking her off is a somewhat unusal move.

110: Cheney sends Kai through alone on goal with a great ball, but she's called back for offside.

110: Canada's starting to use the flanks more effectively now, but they aren't getting a good final cross in. Franko made a terrific run forward on the left flank, but her cross soared wide of the net for a goal kick.

112: Cheney goes in hard on Wilkinson and gets booked for her trouble.

113: Kai's showcasing some great speed here, making a tremendous run in behind the Canadian defence. She then finds Cheney with a terrific drop-pass, but Cheney fires wide from 20 yards out.

114: A long free kick from the Canadians is cleared to Sophie Schmidt, who fires back in. The ball deflects off an American defender and goes out for a corner.

114: A great chance for Schmidt off the corner. She can't get a shot off, but loops a volley pass in. Solo goes for the ball but can't get it, leaving a loose ball in the goalmouth and a frantic scramble, but Lloyd clears the danger.

115: Kai gets a breakaway on the counterattack, but is stopped by LeBlanc. Lang almost gets a breakaway herself at the other end, but a tremendous tackle from behind by Heather Mitts cleanly strips her of the ball. Five minutes left, and both sides are going for it now.

116: Cheney breaks in and lets fly from 16 yards, but only finds the side netting.

118: Canada's creating a few chances, but a crucial pass always seems to go astray at the last minute. They're losing the aerial battles, but they keep trying the long ball anyway.

119: Mitts makes a long run forward from the defence and gets in alone on LeBlanc, but fires wide. Not much time left now. One minute will be added on.

121: And the final whistle blows. Tough luck for Team Canada, but certainly a deserved win for the Americans, given their tremendous advantage in chances and possession.

8 comments:

  1. AH!!!!!! 1-1 so far. This is huge. Come on Canada!

    Thanks for the liveblog.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Anonymous6:54 AM

    Thanks for live blogging this! Video is firewalled in my office and there don't seem to be too many sources with a live feed so this is fantastic.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Anonymous7:08 AM

    Double thanks!! I live in Paris and have been laid up with a broken leg, so no way I can beg any of the Canadian pubs to use their fancy sports broadcasts to catch the game. CBC doesn't seem to want expats watching, video isn't available on the site for me.
    So thanks, and great comments!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Anonymous7:15 AM

    P.S. (From the Parisienne)
    I also have to point out that I'm originally a "townie" from Kingston and found your blog by fluke. Small world eh?.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Glad some people found this useful! At the last commenter: I'm constantly amazed at how many people I run into who have Kingston or Queen's connections. It's not that large of a city, but you sure find a lot of people who have been there, lived there or studied there...

    ReplyDelete
  6. Selina11:27 AM

    It's the secret centre of the world, that's why you make all the connections. . . it's a secret only the native residents know. Enjoy the rest of your studies there. Be nice to the locals.
    Cheers!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Anonymous3:34 PM

    KAI Offsides for Olympic goal? I'm an american soccer fan, in Pennsylvania, and did think the U.S. deserved to win that game, but on the decisive goal, it seems that Tasha Kai was offsides. I played the goal frame by frame, and the U.S. feed seemed to show that she was in too quickly. Did anyone else notice that, or was I hallucinating?

    ReplyDelete
  8. It's possible that she was offside: it was certainly close. I don't have a PVR so I didn't have the chance to go frame-by-frame, but from the live broadcast and their replays, it looked like she was onside to me. Also, the Canadian commentators didn't say anything about it, and they have a tendency to discuss every call that may have slighted Canada at all. My feeling is it was a good goal: Kai's very quick, and I'm pretty sure she snuck past the defender after the ball was kicked. In any case, even if it was offside, the U.S. certainly held the balance of both the play and the chances, so I wouldn't complain too heartily.

    ReplyDelete