COVENTRY, England – Canada’s women’s soccer team has its first medal in Olympic history.
Diana Matheson scored in the 92nd minute to give the Canadians the bronze medal at the London Olympics with a thrilling 1-0 victory over France.
The bronze marks the country’s first Summer Games medal in a traditional team sport since a silver in men’s basketball in 1936.
The five-foot midfielder from Oakville, Ont., fired a long shot past France goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi to lift the Canadians over a stunned French side that had been hammering Canada’s net all game long.
The victory ended a historic run for the Canadians, who were playing in the medal round for the first time after finishing eighth in their Olympic debut four years ago in Beijing.
It’s a remarkable turnaround for a team that was in tatters at this time last year after a last-place finish at the World Cup that led to the hiring of coach John Herdman.
France was the team that ousted Canada from the World Cup with a 4-0 thrashing, and the players vowed they would never feel that way again.
The Canadians had the gold-medal game in their sights but lost a heart-breaker to the Americans in the semifinal – a controversial 4-3 loss that took 123 minutes to decide and left the threat of FIFA sanctions hanging over the Canadian squad.
FIFA is investigating “incidents that occurred” following the drama-filled game that captain Christine Sinclair and her teammates angrily said at the time they believed was decided by the officials.
Sinclair scored a hat trick in the semis, setting the Olympic women’s record for tournament goals scored with six.
American Abby Wambach – with five goals – had a chance to top that later Thursday in the gold-medal game versus Japan.
The semifinal, under blue skies at City of Coventry Stadium, lacked the power and speed of the semifinal, the residual effects no doubt of a long tournament and semifinal that went to extra time.
Christine Sinclair had an excellent chance for Canada in the 15th minute but launched a pass from Rhian Wilkinson over the net. The star striker had another chance minutes later, getting loose for a breakaway before mishandling the ball in the box.
The French took advantage of a sagging Canadian squad in the second half, running roughshod over Canada’s back line. The French had several excellent scoring chances in a span of a few minutes in the second half – Gaetane Thiney banged a shot off the post, Elodie Thomis hit the cross, then midfielder Desiree Scott had to lunge to save a shot on the goal-line off a France corner kick.
The Canadians split its first two games of the Olympics, then laid down three of its finest performances in the team’s history – a come-from-behind 2-2 tie with Sweden, a clean-sheet victory over Great Britain and then the drama-filled loss to the Americans that ended their hopes for gold.
Les Bleues – whose roster includes 11 players of Olympique Lyonnais, winners of the 2011 UEFA Women’s Champions League – had a strong run through the tournament. The French narrowly missed the gold-medal game in a 2-1 loss semifinal loss to Japan – a game that could have drawn level but for a missed France penalty.
The 32,609-seat City of Coventry Stadium – normally home to Coventry City Sky Blues – was about three-quarters full, and it was obvious by the cheers that the locals had adopted the Canadian side.
Attendance at the Olympic women’s tournament has averaged about 24,000 a game.