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Canadian women claim Gold Cup

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The Canadian women did what their male counterparts so often fail to do; rise above dodgy officiating and a hostile Latin American environment — and come away with a victory.

The Canadians captured the Gold Cup with a 1-0 win over the host Mexicans on Monday night. The women’s team had already wrapped up a spot in the Women’s World Cup, but the victory gave coach Carolina Morace’s charges a tremendous psychological boost.

Morace is showing that she has the stuff to repair a women’s program that was left broken by the long-ball tactics of previous coach Even Pellerud, as clever a snake-oil salesman as we’ve seen in international women’s soccer. It wasn’t easy though, as Mexico clearly got some home-field calls in Cancun — the kind of shenanigans we’re used to seeing in men’s games held outside of Canada and the United States.

In the first half, Canadian striker Josee Belanger was clearly tripped from behind by Mexican defender Natalie Vinti, and it wasn’t called. Vinti was removed from the game quickly after the non-call, as it was clear she was struggling to keep up with Belanger and strike partner Christine Sinclair.

Belanger and Sinclair combined for the winner in the second half — sort of. After a wild goalmouth scramble, Belanger pounced on a loose ball and pounded a shot towards the roof of the Mexican goal. But, a la Luis Suarez, Mexico’s Veronica Perez showed outstanding skills in deflecting the shot away from the goal with her hand. Problem was, Perez wasn’t the keeper. She was red carded, and Sinclair calmly dispatched the ensuing penalty.

But, really, as good as Canada was in this tournament, the real winner was women’s soccer itself. Unlike women’s hockey, which continues to be the United States and Canada beating up on a handful of other countries that care, soccer has improved by leaps and bounds. A decade ago, we would have talked about a CONCACAF women’s qualifying tourney as a cake-walk for the Americans, while the Canadians would easily take second. We’d see some 8-0 scorelines.

But those days look to be over. The Americans, after finishing third, have to play Italy in a playoff for a spot. The rise of the other CONCACAF nations, as evidenced by Mexico’s rise to the final, has been quick — and dramatic.

The Canadian women knew that going in.

Diana Matheson

“A lot of the weaker nations have definitely come up,” midfielder Diana Matheson predicted in late September, as Canada prepared in Toronto for the upcoming Gold Cup. “Costa Rica has really picked up, and they were someone we would have written off a couple of cycles ago. And, of course, there’s Mexico.”

Yes, Canada did score 17 times in the tournament — and didn’t give up a goal. But the win over Mexico in the final didn’t come easy. And it only beat Trinidad and Tobago by a goal. So it’s not as exaggerated a margin as you’d see the Canadian women put on the rest of the field in an Olympic women’s hockey tournament.

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