Melissa Tancredi scored twice to lift the Canadian women's soccer team into the quarter-finals of the London Olympics with a 2-2 tie against Sweden on Tuesday — a match that Canada's coach has been looking forward to since the draw was announced months ago.
"We had a script written for this game, and what I tried to do was tie it in that for me this game was personal," said the coach, whose love for the game began as a young boy watching Newcastle United at the storied St. James' Park.
His squad played its role almost perfectly.
The seventh-ranked Canadians had their strongest performance of the tournament, dominating for a large portion of the game against a well-organized team that is ranked No. 4 in the world and won bronze at last summer's World Cup.
Despite a strong first few minutes that Herdman said was the best soccer he's seen the Canadians play in the time he's been head coach, they fell behind 2-0 by the 16-minute mark.
Tancredi responded with her first goal in the 43rd minute after some hard work by Rhian Wilkinson down the right side. Wilkinson broke free with a give-and-go with captain Christine Sinclair and launched a long cross that Tancredi leapt to volley past goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl.
"Oh my god, Rhian, she is playing an unbelievable tournament," Tancredi said. "That ball was incredible, she's doing what we need her to do, attack and do some little Ronaldo stuff on the ball and got the ball through and I knew I just needed to get on the end of it."
The bruising five-foot-nine striker collected her second of the afternoon — and fourth of the tournament — in the 84th, diving hard to head in a cross from Sinclair to the delight of the pro-Canadian crowd of 12,719 at what's now known as Sports Direct Arena.
"Tancredi, all she needed was a No. 9 shirt today," Herdman said, in reference to former Newcastle striker Andy Carroll.
The 30-year-old from Ancaster, Ont., was also on the delivering end of some booming tackles.
"I think there's a little bit of hockey player in her maybe," Sinclair said.
The Canadians, who finished the preliminary round with a win, loss and tie, will face Great Britain in Friday's quarter-finals in Coventry.
Herdman wove bits of Newcastle culture into the team's trip to the hardscrabble city about 350 kilometres northeast of London.
The team warmed up in black and white shirts while Herdman strolled the pitch, hands-in-pockets, gazing up in what had to be a pinch-me-moment for the 37-year-old coach.
"You're in your hometown, you're on your home patch, you've got your family here," Herdman said. "I wanted to make sure we got something out of this game, and they got to experience a bit of the Geordie culture.
"There were a few words that we used ... it's no longer 'girls' it's 'lasses.' They wanted to endear themselves to the fans, so Sincy (Sinclair) if she scored had the Alan Shearer celebration all set up.
"It's been a decent day."
Marie Hammarstrom and Sofia Jacobsson scored for Sweden. Hammarstrom's came in the 14th minute when she side-footed a cross past Canadian 'keeper Erin McLeod. Jakobsson put the Swedes up 2-0 just two minutes later, getting her foot on a long cross.
"Seeing the team down 2-0 is not too dissimilar to watching Newcastle some days, and then seeing the Geordie spirit come back," Herdman said.
"It was one of those days when you're on the touchline and you've seen coaches like (Kevin) Keegan, (Alan) Pardew, top coaches operating, It was just an honour to be anywhere near that football field.
"But I bring it back to the players, I said to Matheson, there's been some great midfielders grace this pitch, Paul Gascoigne, Chrissy Waddle, and she played like that today."
The Canadians had 62 per cent of the possession, and outshot the Swedes 14-9.
Tancredi narrowly missed getting her foot on a nice cross from Wilkinson early in the game, Jonelle Filigno had a second-half shot that a Swedish defender saved on the goal-line and Sinclair launched a long shot just over the crossbar in the 77th minute.
The Canadians opened the Games with a 2-1 loss to World Cup champion Japan and then defeated South Africa 3-0
They went into Tuesday's game with a 3-1-12 record versus the well-organized Swedes, but two of those victories came in 2011.
St. James' Park, with a capacity of 52,409, is the sixth largest soccer stadium in the United Kingdom. There's a statue of the late-Bobby Robson at the entrance, and a bar named "Shearers" after retired United star.
"We came here (Monday) to do a little walkthrough, to get your nerves out and take your pictures, so coming out today you're not overwhelmed by it," Sinclair said. "But seeing all the Canadian supporters, it was kind of like our home field. It was nice."
Marie-Eve Nault made her first appearance of the Games, as a starter on Canada's injury-depleted back line. Defenders Candace Chapman, Emily Zurrer and Robyn Gayle are all sidelined with injuries.Suggest a correction