Ukraine referee Kateryna Monzul's decision to award a stoppage-time penalty Saturday proved to be the turning point in Canada's 1-0 win over China in the opening match of the Women's World Cup.
Captain Christine Sinclair scored on the 92nd-minute penalty kick for the Canada victory and her 154th international goal.
Canadian coach John Herdman applauded the call, given its timing, importance and the nature of the offence.
"All credit to the referee," he said after the match. "I mean that was a brave decision. Some refs just sort of overlook those ones, because you can go 'OK, well it was a bump.' It wasn't like blatantly obvious, (like) it was a blatant trip or something like that when someone's through on goal.
"I thought she was brave, very brave. And she had a very good game today. If that's the standard of the referees in this tournament, this is going to be a solid tournament."
China coach Hao Wei said he did not have a clear view of the play.
"We are here to play the game. We respect all the rules and we respect all the referee's judgment," he said diplomatically through an interpreter. "But whether it is fair or not I have to watch the video afterwards."
Canada's Sophie Schmidt sent a looping ball into the box to Jessie Fleming, who toppled backwards as she headed the ball back towards Adriana Leon. The Canadian forward and China's Zhao Rong both went after the ball with Leon going down after she was partially clotheslined by Zhao.
The Chinese player appeared to be trying to hold her position as she headed towards the ball, but her outstretched arm caught Leon, whose burst of speed seemed to take Zhao by surprise. Zhao's height didn't help either in terms of the collision. She is listed as being three inches taller than the five-foot-three Leon.
Joe Machnik, a former FIFA match commissioner and MLS vice-president, agreed with the call on the Fox Sports broadcast.
"I don't think it's a controversial play at all. What makes it controversial is the time of the decision — the 90th-plus minute," he said. "We wouldn't be talking about it if it happened in the 31st minute.
"For me, it's a penalty whether it's the 31st minute or the 90th minute. The referee makes a great call."
But fellow Fox analyst, Alexi Lalas, a former U.S. international, disagreed.
"Was it a foul? Yes. But the calls in a soccer game don't happen in a vacuum," he said. "I have to look at this in the context of the game. This was a 0-0 game. I thought in the first half, China played better than Canada, so at the end of the game, what really happened was the soccer gods smiled on the host nation, the referee walked to the spot singing 'O Canada' and gave them a gift.
"In the context of this game, I would not have called this a penalty."
Former Canadian international Kara Lang, now a TSN analyst, said it was the right call — the result of sloppy defending.
FIFA's laws of the game define 10 offences that should result in a direct free kick, or a penalty if committed inside the penalty area.
One could argue Zhao committed five of those offences, whether she meant to or not:
— jumps at an opponent
— charges an opponent
— strikes or attempts to strike an opponent
— pushes an opponent
— tackles an opponent.
Asked post-match if the crowd of 53,000-plus at Commonwealth Stadium had helped get the penalty, Herdman laughed.
"Absolutely," he said. "That's your home advantage."
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