Canada claims bronze, redemption over France with late goal

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Third place matches don’t always hold much value. This one did.

What’s the defining (and perhaps only) appeal of third place matches? Unpredictability. Teams are often willing to shed their inhibition because really, what is there to lose? If there’s any truth to the truism “no one remembers the runner-up” then where does that leave the third place team?

It’s that low-risk, low-stakes nature of these games that can make them so entertaining. Remember that rollicking Germany/Uruguay match from the 2010 World Cup? Maybe the single most enjoyable match of the tournament.

This morning’s bronze medal match between France and Canada actually held some meaning. Something was on the line, and not just an Olympic medal. Both teams were eager to overcome previous disappointments. France and Canada have a habit of flattering to deceive. A win today would reverse a growing trend of near misses.

The two sides arrived from ill-fated semifinal matches exasperated, embittered, and above all else, exhausted. France had the opportunity to draw level with Japan on a penalty kick but failed to convert the would-be equalizer. And as for Canada, well, you know.

Was there anything carefree about this match? Not a chance. That anxious desire to avoid yet another stinging defeat made the game more intense than anything.

(MORE on Olympic women’s soccer: previewing U.S.-Japan gold medal match)

France were indecisive in front of goal while Canada simply looked gassed. And who can blame them after such a physically and emotionally taxing 36 hours. Christine Sinclair and Melissa Tancredi escaped suspension from FIFA but didn’t look nearly as dynamic as they have throughout their time in the U.K.

The match finally began to show signs of life around the hour mark when France head coach Bruno Bini called upon impact subs Camille Abily and Eugenie Le Sommer to liven things up a bit. France showed some endeavor, but lacked execution. It proved to be fatal. Shots pelted Erin McLeod’s goal though none would elude her.

Les Bleues’ wastefulness has spelled the difference between victory and defeat in their last two matches. Too many tirs and tirs cadré; too few buts. The damning evidence courtesy of Opta:

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And as for Canada? Three days after Alex Morgan snatched a last-moment victory for the U.S., Big Red claimed a big moment of their own. With extra time looming, Diana Matheson took on a weary French defense and slotted a shot past goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi.

Canada’s team members celebrated their first Olympic medal win with unabashed enthusiasm and for good reason. This is the first time the country has medaled in a team sport in the Summer Olympics since 1936, after all.

After experiencing the lowest of troughs, Canada’s surreal two weeks will now end on a high. Lovable losers no more.