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Canadian women’s soccer team advances with thrilling tie

Sweden's Emma Berglund, left, and Canada's Jonelle Filigno struggle for possession as Sweden's Lina Nilsson, right, comes to help during their women's Group F football match at the London 2012 Olympic Games at St James' Park in Newcastle, England on Tuesday.

NIGEL RODDIS/REUTERS

John Herdman took the Canadian women's soccer team for a walk around St. James' Park on Monday, telling them tales of Sir Bobby Robson and Paul Gascoigne, Alan Shearer and Chris Waddle.

When a child is born in this area, the head coach told them, it is either given a black-and-white shirt or a red-and-white shirt – black for Newcastle United, red for Sunderland.

Canada had the red-and-white angle covered with its national team kit. But Herdman, a proud Geordie, is black and white all the way. So the Canadian players struck on a novel idea: they'd wear black tops for their warm-up Tuesday.

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Coupled with dodgy officiating by South Korean referee Hong Eun-ah – who missed two obvious hand balls – it helped bring the majority of the crowd of close to 13,000 on the Canadians' side. "Like home," captain Christine Sinclair said after Canada booked its way to the knockout stages of the Olympic tournament. Canada will face Great Britain in knockout stage action in Coventry, England, on Friday.

Canada tied Sweden 2-2 in its final preliminary round match Tuesday, and the players' celebration on the pitch before they headed over to a large group of Canadian fans and then circled the field – while the dour Swedes huddled with their coach – told the tale.

Melissa Tancredi scored her second goal of the match and fourth of the tournament in the 84th minute to secure a justly-deserved tie with the fourth-ranked team in the world.

While those on the Canadian bench jumped and hugged and Tancredi pulled herself off the ground with a wide grin, somebody grabbed a Canadian flag and ran up and down the opposite sideline.

"We didn't doubt it today," Canada's mighty mite midfielder, Diana Matheson, said. "This is our coach's home, and he had the belief in us – that we were going to get the result."

Playing in the hole behind a Canadian front line of Tancredi and Jonelle Filigno, Sinclair had a hand in both Canadian goals. Her curling pass set up Tancredi's header to tie, and her deft flick return pass to Rhian Wilkinson set up a cross to Tancredi that ended up in the back of the Swedish net with a minute left in the first half.

Canada had what Herdman described as being the best start of his tenure. Despite that, it was quickly down 2-0 on goals by Marie Hammarstrom (14th minute) and Sofia Jakobsson (16th) – the second of which came when goalkeeper Erin McLeod, picked to start ahead of Karina LeBlanc, made a hash of a cross.

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"We were aiming to overload on one side of the pitch," Herdman said, explaining the move he made with Sinclair, "and we needed to get those players that were comfortable living in those those tight little triangles and boxes that Sweden uses. Sinclair is one of those players, so we wanted to try and get her in areas where she could combine and link up and get other players in the game.

"Christine has unbelievable technique," Herdman added. "She can handle the ball in ridiculous pressure."

Sinclair enjoyed the change.

"You're able to find the ball at your feet a little more, and sometimes in a lot more space," she said. "Up top, it's a lot of one-versus-one battles in the air or one versus one in behind."

Given the ups and downs of Sinclair's tenure with the national team, it's understandable she'd have no problem embracing the role of a distributor.

Goals of her own, she has. Fistfuls.

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Time now for bigger things.

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