Monday, August 06, 2012


WITH A STORYBOOK NARRATIVE OF ITS OWN: It's a rematch of the 2008 Women's World Cup final against Japan, the winners, and a chance for redemption. The USA 4-3 win over Canada in OT was one of those games for the ages. It was almost not fair to the Canadians, especially to their splendid goal scoring machine, Christine Sinclair. But at its essence, it's simply a cruel game sometimes, in that the Canadians made three critical errors resulting in two American goals.

Every team makes mistakes from which, however, they have a better chance of recovery than against this opportunistic and merciless USA team. The American players just keep coming at you and make their own opportunities. There's a word for that: character.

Let's take a look at Canada's errors:

1. The main player here and one of the stars of the game with two goals, Megan Rapinoe, is the awesome natural old-school winger with the slashing speed to get behind defenses, and that wickedly precise right foot. Rapinoe's equalizer, with the U.S. down 1-0, came from a corner kick on the left wing swung it in with a right-footed service, a wicked seeing-eye curveball laced with plenty of English that found net through bodies and legs inside the near post.

But here's the thing. There is a reason most teams plant a defender on the near post to cover corner kicks, while the goalkeeper covers the far post along with defenders zoning in the neighborhood. The reason is to guard against precisely the kind of goal Rapinoe scored with her sinful inswinger. In fact, it's Soccer 101 Fundamentals, so much so that I'd be very surprised if Rapinoe's goal doesn't end up on soccer training videos teaching how not to defend corner kicks.

Curiously, corner kick goals, rare for their skill and beauty, are known in South American soccer parlance as "Olympic goals." Why? Well, the story goes that in the 1924 and 1928 Olympics the first South American teams, Uruguay and Argentina, entered the competition. Uruguay won back-to-back Olympic soccer titles. Its great rival Argentina beat Uruguay, fresh from their triumph in the Paris 1924 Olympics, by 2-1, one of the goals a direct corner kick.

The Argentines immediately dubbed it their "Olympic goal" to exact a measure of satisfaction from the Olympic champions. Not that it worked as Uruguay went on to repeat in 1928. But the name stuck. (It's just one in the myriad storied history of the greatest sport on Earth, which now has a new chapter written by Megan Rapinoe and her teammates.)

2. The Canadian goalkeeper should never have allowed herself to be called for holding the ball beyond the alloted six seconds. Most referees consider this a technical infraction and issue a warning before actually awarding the opposing team an indirect free kick at the site of the infraction. That's what the added time at the end is all about. But the way a goalkeeper avoids this is to put the ball on the ground and maintain possession as long as an opponent doesn't charge to challenge and force her to kick it away. There are ways within the rules to while away the time "making wax" as they say south of the border.

3. Once the free kick was awarded, the defenders on the wall, or blocking the opponent's shot must be keenly aware, and trained, to avoid a hand ball penalty being awarded to the other team. Basically, you must be prepared to give up your body, sans the hands and arms or elbows, otherwise stay the hell out of the red zone. The penalty awarded Team USA, compounding the indirect free kick, was totally avoidable by Canada.

Canada played a gallant match under relentless pressure from Team USA. The statistics tell the story: 18-9 shots, 12-4 corner kicks, and 54%-46% ball possession in favor of Team USA. Errors, as described here, are seldom self-inflicted. The best team won, in a game for the ages in the greatest sport on Earth, as delighted American fans, late to the game, are suddenly discovering.

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