USA end Canada's Olympic dream


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Jim Morris (The Canadian Press)

She had shed her tears, hugged her teammates, and said goodbye to her coach.

But goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc was still looking for the words to express the emotion the Canadian women's soccer team felt Friday after a 2-1 defeat in extra time to the USA that knocked them out of the Olympic Games tournament.

"It hurts," said LeBlanc, who kept Canada in the game after starter Erin McLeod hurt her knee in the first half. "It's like having your heart broken.

"We came in here with high expectations of ourselves. It was too soon to end. It felt like there was a knife in my heart."

Natasha Kai headed in a shot in the 11th minute of the first extra time period to send the Americans into the semifinal. Defeat ended a chapter for the Canadian women's team, as it was Even Pellerud's final game as head coach and several of the players are expected to retire.

"It's the end of this era," said midfielder Diana Matheson. "We've been together for two years. Who knows where our program goes from here."

Pellerud was typically stoic after the loss. He calmly analyzed the game, but did not seem to show much emotion over the end of his nine-year tenure with the team.

"It has been a wonderful nine years for me, my family and the program," he said. "There has been development of the team and the program in Canada.

"I hoped my team would finish with a good performance and a win in my last game. We seemed to run out of gas early in the second half. We kept fighting and we created a war, but we couldn't play the good performances we have played before. They worked as hard as they can. I have no problem with the results."

The marathon game, delayed almost two hours due to rain and lightening, was decided when Shannon Boxx sent in a cross from the left-hand side and found Kai. The American substitute was left unmarked at the far post and was able to head the ball past LeBlanc.

She celebrated by shaking a finger in the air and wagging her hips.

The defending Olympic gold medallists controlled much of the match. They swarmed around the Canadian goal, but needed extra time to finish the deal.

The Canadians spent a lot of time chasing the faster Americans. When Canada did have the ball, the players had trouble making passes and maintaining any pressure.

Vancouver Whitecaps striker Christine Sinclair scored for Canada in the 30th minute after Angela Hucles had given the Americans the lead earlier in the half.

"You hate to lose any game," said Sinclair. "But to lose the quarter-finals in the Olympics…it's a little hard to accept right now."

Sinclair had a chance to win the game in the 78th minute, but her shot was stopped by American goalkeeper Hope Solo. A frustrated Sinclair held her head in her hands.

There's an irony that Pellerud's last game as head coach was against the team's old nemesis. Canada has not beaten the USA in seven years.

Pellerud announced prior to the Olympics that he would step down from his job following the Beijing Games. His contract officially expires in December.

A pouring rain accompanied by brilliant flashes of lightening and claps of thunder forced the players off the field after the Americans made it 1-0. The rain returned in the second half, but the game continued.

LeBlanc managed to block Hucles on a breakaway in the 71st minute to keep the game level, then got a finger tip on a Amy Rodriguez shot that could have won the game in stoppage time.

Midfielder Brittany Timko was involved in a violent collision with Solo in the 87th minute. Timko left the game, but Solo was unhurt.

The spectacular 56,000-seat Shanghai Stadium was about one-third full for the match. A sprinkling of Canadian and American fans tried to out-yell each other in support of their team.

Sinclair tied the game with her second goal of the Games after Canada stole the ball on an American throw-in in their own end. The Burnaby, BC, native wheeled around and fired a hard, rising shot from near the edge of the box.

The USA took the lead in the 12th minute when Rodriguez launched a long ball into the box that Canada midfielder Rhian Wilkinson missed clearing. Heather O'Reilly headed the ball to Hucles, who took a shot. A diving McLeod got a piece of the ball, but Hucles was able to chip in the rebound.

McLeod, from Edmonton, Alberta, was hurt on the play. She spent several minutes lying on the ground holding her right knee. She managed get back on her feet and played for a few minutes before being replaced by LeBlanc, who is from Maple Ridge, B.C.

The Canadian women's last victory over the Americans was on March 11, 2001. Since then, the USA has outscored Canada 43-13. Coming into the match, Canada had a record of three wins, 36 losses and four draws against the Americans.

The USA are ranked number one in the world by FIFA, world soccer's governing body. Canada are ranked ninth.

The Canadian women, playing in their first Olympic tournament, advanced to the quarter-final with a 2-1 win over Argentina, a 1-1 draw against China and a 2-1 defeat to Sweden.

The USA were upset 2-0 by Norway in their opening game of the tournament, but rallied to beat Japan 1-0 and New Zealand 4-0.

CANADA
18.Erin McLeod (1.Karina LeBlanc 19'); 3.Emily Zurrer, 4.Clare Rustad, 6.Sophie Schmidt, 7.Rhian Wilkinson, 8.Diana Matheson, 9.Candace Chapman, 10.Martina Franko, 12.Christine Sinclair (C), 14.Melissa Tancredi (17.Brittany Timko 46', 16.Jonelle Filigno 92'), 15.Kara Lang

Subs not used:
2.Jodi-Ann Robinson, 5.Robyn Gayle, 11.Randee Hermus, 13.Amy Walsh

USA
1.Hope Solo; 2.Heather Mitts, 3.Christie Rampone (C), 5.Lindsay Tarpley (13.Tobin Heath 82'), 7.Shannon Boxx, 8.Amy Rodriguez (12.Lauren Cheney 109'), 9.Heather O'Reilly (6.Natasha Kai 91'), 11.Carli Lloyd, 15.Kate Markgraf, 16.Angela Hucles, 17.Lori Chalupny

Subs not used: 4.Rachel Buehler, 10.Aly Wagner, 14.Stephanie Cox, 18.Nicole Barnhart