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Rose, Sinclair lead as Canada beats Brazil for Olympic soccer bronze in thriller

SAO PAULO — Captain Christine Sinclair sobbed when it was all over. Coach John Herdman picked players up and twizzled them like a proud dad at his daughter's graduation.

In the locker-room afterwards there was an impromptu dance party.

The Canadian women's soccer team won bronze Friday, completing an emotional, memorable Olympic journey that saw them win five games and knock off four top-10 teams en route to the medal podium for the second straight Games.

The final step was a nailbiting 2-1 win over Brazil with goals from teenager Deanne Rose and Sinclair — in the 25th and 52nd minute, respectively — enough to survive a 79th-minute strike by Beatriz in a game played before a sea of yellow and green at Corinthians Arena.

The 10th-ranked Canadians returned to their winning formula — defending well and being opportunistic on attack. Eighth-ranked Brazil threatened on set pieces but was unable to break down the Canadian backline with one exception.

That came when a flick-on from a throw-in found Beatriz, who turned and knocked it in, bringing the crowd to its feet and restoring hope for the home side.

"The place was just vibrating when Brazil scored that goal," said Herdman. "We always do things the hard way. We keep people on the edge of our seats. But there was just an inner belief that it was going to happen today. I think these girls were very clear what they wanted to do."

An emotional Sinclair, fighting back tears at the post-game news conference, detailed the mission.

"We set a goal to achieve back-to-back podiums and that's what we did. We weren't going to settle for anything less than that."

The late goal made for a tense ending with Brazil playing all-out attack and Canada defending like their lives depended on it. The loud crowd of 39,718 tried to roar their team on but the Canadians refused to break.

They rushed the pitch to celebrate while the crowd, never wavering in its support, chanted for its team. Sinclair, for so long the face of Canadian soccer, was sobbing as organizers set up the podium for the medal presentation.

It turned out to be a perfect Olympic finale for Herdman's team, a blend of wide-eyed youth and experience, with goals coming from the 17-year-old Rose and 33-year-old Sinclair.

Sinclair, earning her 250th cap, typified the Canadian effort. She was all over the field, looking to set up attacks or blunt Brazilian attacks.

The intensely private Canadian captain has endured plenty off the field in recent months, including the death of her father.

"It's been a hard year for me," she said, her voice breaking. "I've put everything into this. Sacrificing things. I was not going to leave this tournament without a medal around my neck.

"I could not have done it without every single member of this team. There were days where I didn't think I would be here."

Sinclair couldn't continue, taking a pause to compose herself before finishing. "Yeah, it's been an interesting year."

Other veterans have also had to overcome heartbreak off the field.

"This is what we play for," said midfielder-forward Diana Matheson. "Moments like this when you just let out the emotion. You're just so thankful for what you do and the people that you get to do it with."

Rhian Wilkinson watched from the bench Friday. The 34-year-old fullback played three games at the tournament, but wasn't happy with her performance.

Teammate Melissa Tancredi picked her up.

"She said 'Let us carry you over the finish line.' It was the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me," said Wilkinson, her voice breaking.

Wilkinson took time to think about the women who came before her, "who gave as much as we did back in the day when they got no rewards."

"This is a really cool time to be a female in soccer in Canada," she added.

Rose is living proof. She has yet to enter Grade 12 and already has an Olympic medal.

"I'm just trying to take it in," she said. "It's amazing, an amazing feeling."

It marked Canada's fourth game at Corinthians Arena, where it had won the previous three. But this time they were the enemy.

While the wall of sound was solidly in support of the home side, it was also compelling evidence of the pressure the Brazilian women were under to secure a medal on home soil. The Canadians knew all about such expectations, having hosted the World Cup last summer.

The crowd chanted "Brazil, Brazil" as the clock wound down. But the Canadian women held on with the three minutes of stoppage time feeling like an eternity.

"It's a really really hard match," Brazilian coach Vadao said through an interpreter.

"We knew the Canadians were very very strong, especially physically," he added.

Brazil outshot Canada 15-7 (but trailed 5-3 in shots on target). Eleven of those Brazilian shots came in the second half.

Herdman sprung a surprise by not including 22-year-old forward Janine Beckie, the team's leading scorer here with three goals, in his starting lineup. Beckie, Sophie Schmidt and Wilkinson made way for Matheson, Rose and Josee Belanger.

Knowing that the Brazilians had played in back-to-back overtime games, Herdman was confident the gazelle-like Rose could help stretch and tire the Brazil defence, with Beckie in reserve.

Rose started up front, providing extra pace on the right flank, with Matheson adding her guile and 191-cap experience behind her in midfield.

The move paid dividends in the 25th minute after a lung-busting run down the left flank by fullback Ashley Lawrence ripped open the Brazilian defence. As two Canadians raced to the other side of goal, Lawrence sent over a perfect cross and Rose tapped it in for her fifth goal in 20 matches for Canada.

"I was just glad that I could get to the end of it end," said Rose. "She (Lawrence) set that right up."

Lawrence said later that the coaching staff had identified a weakness in transition in the Brazilian team. The goal came off just such a play.

Despite an early second-half surge by the home side, Canada padded the lead in the 52nd minute after Jessie Fleming pickpocketed a Brazilian and danced her way around several defenders on the right flank. She found Rose in the penalty box who in turn found Sinclair who found the net with her second attempt for her 165th goal.

Herdman celebrated on the sideline, punching his fists in the air.

Goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe tipped a Brazilian shot off the crossbar soon after and Rose hit the crossbar at the other end with a shot in the 58th minute. The teenager exited one minute later after a storming game, replaced by defender Allysha Chapman as Canada looked to shut the door on the Brazilians. Beckie came on in the 69th minute to provide fresh legs up front.

The Brazilians kept pressing, coming close on a header off a Marta feed that flashed just wide in the 76th minute. Canada adopted a defensive formation with five at the back.

Canada defeated France 1-0 four years ago to win bronze. The Brazilian women, who won silver in 2004 and 2008, have now finished fourth three times — in 1996, 2000 and 2016.

Both teams had to pick themselves up after demoralizing semifinal final losses: Canada was beaten 2-0 by Germany while Brazil went down in a penalty shootout against Sweden. The Canadian women had already made history by beating Germany in round-robin play — their first ever win over the Germans — and believed they could have done it again had they played at their best.

Herdman delivered the pre-game speech Friday, sharing with his players about his five years with the program — "not a lot of words, just what it's meant to him and what we could do today," said Matheson.

Canada beat Germany, No. 5 Australia and No. 93 Zimbabwe in the preliminary round before downing No. 3 France in the quarter-finals.

Friday at the stadium started as all the other game days have done for Canada, with Sinclair walking out alone for a quiet moment alone in the centre of the field prior to warmup. Ben Harper's "Diamonds on the Inside" played over the PA system.

As she left, a group of six teammates went to centre field for an extended huddle. Their soundtrack was "Don't Worry, Be Happy."

This is the second time Canada has won back-to-back medals in a team summer sport, following lacrosse at St. Louis 1904 and London 1908.


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