Canadian women seek monumental upset against U.S. in Olympic soccer semis


Canada and the United States will square off in the women's soccer semifinals at the Olympics — again (Monday, 4 a.m. ET, Here's a look at what to watch for in a rematch of the 2012 Olympic semifinals that saw the U.S. win 4-3 despite a hat trick from Canada's Christine Sinclair.

Canadian women's soccer captain Christine Sinclair, left, jostles for possession with U.S. defender Abby Dahlkemper during a 2020 match. Canada and the U.S. will face off in the semifinals of the Tokyo Games, a rematch of the 2012 Olympic semis.(Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

Canada and the United States will square off in the women's soccer semifinals at the Olympics — again.

There are still a few familiar faces from both sides of the 2012 London Games showdown that saw the U.S. win 4-3 after extra time despite a hat trick from Canadian superstar Christine Sinclair, but it's the next generation of players on both sides who are poised to make the biggest impact.

That 2012 match is widely remembered for the calls made (and not made) by the referee, including a six-second violation against Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod. The ensuing indirect free kick resulted in a Canadian hand-ball; U.S. stalwart Abby Wambach scored on the ensuing penalty kick to tie the match 3-3 with 10 minutes left in regulation.

"That game really stuck with people," said Dr. Clare Rustad, an Olympic soccer analyst and former member of the Canadian women's national team.

"I think what stands out for people was an incredible individual performance by Christine Sinclair, probably the best game she's ever played, some interesting referee decisions — and I will say, I think they do actually end up going both ways," said Rustad, who is now a family physician in British Columbia.

"It'll be interesting to see how they fare against them this go-around."

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Before the match kicks off on Monday (4 a.m. ET,, here's a look at how the two teams have fared at the Tokyo Olympics so far and some key players to watch in the semifinals.

Penalty kicks required in quarter-final matches

Both teams needed penalty kicks in their respective quarter-final matches to advance for a shot at the Olympic podium.

Canada defeated Brazil 4-3 from the spot after the match ended 0-0 following extra time. Vanessa Gilles converted the decisive spot kick, and goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé sealed the win with a diving two-handed save on Brazilian defender Rafaelle.

The Canadians are looking for their third consecutive podium after earning bronze at both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

The U.S. won 4-2 on penalties over the Netherlands — a rematch of the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup — after extra time couldn't resolve a 2-2 stalemate.

The Americans have won consecutive World Cups and gold medals in three of the last four Olympics, but they missed the podium in Rio five years ago. This tournament saw the U.S. drop its opening match 3-0 to Sweden and draw 0-0 with Australia; those two teams will face off in the second semifinal on Monday at 7 a.m. ET.

"The U.S. has not looked as sharp as they did, say, looking at the [2019] World Cup or even leading into these Olympics," retired Canadian goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc told host Brendan Dunlop on Friday.

"But I don't want Canadians to think we have this in the bag, because there's one thing Diana [Matheson] and myself know is that the Americans always show up for Canada," LeBlanc said, referring to her longtime teammate who also appeared on the CBC Sports program.

Depth up front, vulnerable at the back

Despite the vulnerabilities the U.S. has shown at these Games, Rustad said there is still a wealth of talent up front.

"It's almost comical sometimes when they bring on subs up front, and they're bringing on [Megan] Rapinoe as a sub or Alex Morgan as a sub," she said.

But there are areas that Canada could exploit — particularly the right side of the U.S. defence, Rustad said. She pointed to the dynamic play of forward Nichelle Prince as a potential key to cracking the back line.

"If they actually flip her over to the left side of the park and have her run at Kelley O'Hara and Abby Dahlkemper on that right side of the American defence, I think she'll be able to break through," Rustad said.

Canadian forward Nichelle Prince could play a pivotal role in Monday's semifinal.(Silvia Izquierdo/The Associated Press)

Matheson, who scored the bronze-winning goal at the 2012 London Olympics, also pointed to the depth of U.S. substitutions, including Rapinoe, Morgan and Christen Press.

"That's not a bad three players to throw on towards the end of the game," Matheson told Dunlop. "It's going to be a fight … it's going to be a street fight.

"I'm excited for us to go toe-to-toe with them."

Mind the offside line

While Rustad commented that the U.S. midfield hasn't played as a unit consistently at these Games, she warned that it could still pose a problem to the Canadians.

"Don't allow them time on the ball, don't allow them time to get their head up and look for that run behind, because players like Christen Press up front will burn you," Rustad said.

Despite U.S. inconsistencies throughout the tournament, Christen Press remains a lethal offensive force for the team.(Ayaka Naito/AFP/Getty Images)

The U.S. attack has also been hampered by offside calls throughout the tournament, Rustad added, something the Canadian defenders can take advantage of.

"As long as they're all communicating, all keeping a good line, I think they'll be able to stall a lot of the American attack because they're just not paying attention to the offside line," she said.

And, of course, there's Sinclair — whose 186 international goals scored are the most of all time. While she plays a different style than she did during that 2012 semifinal, the Canadian captain can still play a decisive role in this fixture.

"I think that [Canada is] a lot more creative and there's a lot of youth that's come into this team that's been highly beneficial," Rustad said. "And while they haven't consistently scored goals and consistently been creative up front, I think we've seen enough glimpses to say that it's coming.

"This is a beatable American team for sure."


Benjamin Blum is a senior writer with CBC News and previously worked with CBC Sports in the same capacity. He holds a master's of journalism from the University of King's College in Halifax.

With files from The Associated Press and The Canadian Press

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