There might not have been as large of an audience as the marquee semi-finals match against the United States, but Canada’s 1-0 triumph over France in the bronze medal game should receive just as much media coverage. And this time, the outcome is a positive one. In the final minutes of extra time, Canada’s Diana Matheson sealed a wondrous tournament for the Canadians, scoring a rebound goal in one of Canada’s few chances of the game. This brings Canada’s medal count to 15, and provides inspiration to a country that is on the up in terms of summer sports. At the moment, Canada sits thirteenth in the overall medal count for London 2012, but is hot on the heels of Holland and Italy.
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It is sometimes surprising to hear that Canada is a weak soccer nation. Although the men’s team sits low in the FIFA World Rankings (79), it does boast some impressive players, and the quality only seems to be improving. Remember that the United States does not even have a team in the men’s bracket of the Olympics soccer tournament, because of Canada. In the group stage of Olympics qualifying, the U-23 Men’s squad knocked the States out of contention in what has to be one of the world’s major youth soccer upsets of 2012.
Moreover, with Major League Soccer teams such as Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver establishing youth training centers, the country’s promising ten year-olds and rising teenagers will be targeted for development just as Lionel Messi was trained by the Barcelona FC youth academy. Edmonton FC even has its reserve program, and it’s clear that this squad is developing some promising young players in the Alberta region alone. Several years ago, a team of Edmonton players born in the 1995-6 age range travelled down to Spain to play in one of the Basque region’s major soccer tournaments, and they beat Real Madrid FC’s youth squad, 1-0. And yes, this was the legit Real Madrid. With professional academics now in Canada, these young Canadian players will continue to improve as they age, hopefully keeping pace with the pro academics in Europe.
But women’s soccer has always achieved at a high standard for Canada. Apart from the surprising early exit in the recent World Cup in Germany, Canadian soccer has thrived, thanks in part to standout players like Christine Sinclair. Entering the London 2012 Olympics, however, there were some major question marks for Canada. The opening 2-1 loss to Japan meant that wins over South Africa and Sweden would be crucial in order to simply advance to the knockout stage. Canada did just that, overcoming South Africa 3-1, crawling back against Sweden to a score of 2-2, and then besting Great Britain in the quarters.
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Take a look at the FIFA World Rankings for men’s and women’s soccer, and countries such as Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Croatia and Greece are all in the top 30 (for the men). On the men’s side, Denmark, Croatia and Greece are ahead of Brazil. Brazil! In women’s soccer, Canada is a strong seventh. But with the Olympics soccer results, who knows? A top-5 ranking might be in the cards. In any case, the point is, Canada is a hot-bed for sports talent.
Whether it is women’s or men’s soccer, Canada has what it takes to feature top-30 teams in the world rankings for the men, and top-5 for women. With performances that inspire Canadians, such as the August 9 victory over France, and the Canadian U-23 victory over the States, young Canadians might opt for the soccer pitch instead of the hockey rink or the ball diamond. As pro teams pop up in the country, it would be amazing to see the top youth players travel to Europe and whet their skills against the best that the world has to offer.
The medal ceremony will soon grace the Canadian team with their much-deserved bronze medals. For the next weeks, this is Canada’s time to celebrate.