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A look back at the "football miracle" of 2002


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A look back at the "football miracle" of Canada 2002

(FIFA.com) 10 Jun 2004

The upcoming FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship in Thailand will have a long way to go to match the unexpected drama and passion generated at the inaugural competition two years ago in the Great White North. "What has happened in this country?" FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter asked in rhetorical glee upon arrival in a suddenly football-mad Edmonton just prior to the semi-final stage. But if it could happen in Canada, known more for her devotion to ice hockey than football, then why not this November in Thailand too?

Following the hugely successful FIFA Women's World Cup in 1999, Blatter pronounced rather brazenly "the future of football is feminine." That being the case, a youth tournament for the women's game was the next logical step. As a complement to the thriving Women's World Cup, the U-19 World Championship was established and tentatively scheduled for 2002 with limited expectations. And the decision to give the hosting duties to Canada - very much on the footballing periphery - had many an eyebrow raised in doubt.

Sinclair, Canada, football-fever

But as the 12-team, two week, three-venue competition began to take shape in August of 2002, all of Canada, charmed by the level of football and the inspired attitude of the home team, exploded in a frenzy of football fever.

Front-page headlines ran in Edmonton and Vancouver papers extolling the virtues of the beautiful game and the fairytale home team. Led By Christine Sinclair's outrageous goal scoring exploits (the tournament top scorer grabbed five against England in the quarters) and 14-year-old Kara Lang's pluck, the team were the toast of the nation and everyone was taking notice.

By the time the red-clad Canucks met fancy Brazil in the semi-finals, Sinclair had bulged the onion bag 10 times and over 40,000 folks trekked out to the Commonwealth Stadium to shout out for the home team. The atmosphere was electric and the football was sparkling. "Who knew they could play this well!" announced Blatter at a press conference the following day. "I am more than proud to say, there are no tickets left for the final…Mama mia!" the overjoyed President added.

Tens of thousands turn out

Over 50,000 tickets were sold for the final, thanks in no small part to Canada's 4-3 win over lovely Brazil in the enthralling semi. Marta, the newest sensation on the senior side, was pulling off tricks worthy of her Samba heritage. No one could touch her then either.

But it was Canada's turn as they kept their nerve to win on penalties. And the post-game press conference was delayed indefinitely as the girls, draped in their Maple Leaf-emblazoned flag, saluted the heaving crowd and soaked in the moment.

And in a first-ever FIFA World final, the ladies from up North would meet a familiar, and much-feared foe.

Tracy Leone's USA overwhelmed the opposition on their way to the September 1 final. In strict opposition to the cheerful, homespun appeal of the bustling Canucks, the U.S. ladies were determined, disciplined, self-aware and fiercely prepared. A 5-1 win over England, 4-0 over brave Australia and 6-0 over luckless Chinese Taipei, had the States looking like champs in the picturesque environs of Victoria's ultra-intimate Centennial Stadium. A 6-0 win over Denmark in the daunting cauldron of Edmonton's Commonwealth in their quarter-final and a 4-1 semi-final hammering of Germany, had Canada looking like lambs to the slaughter heading into the ultimate match.

A night of football to remember

The fans came out early for the all-North American final. And a tighter match one will never see. Both sides thrusting and defending to the ebbs and flows of the tens of thousands in attendance. It was a pure footballing celebration. And when U.S. captain and current senior team standout Lindsey Tarplay finally popped in the winner in golden-goal overtime, the initial groan from the pro-Canada crowd turned quickly to appreciative applause, and the tears of the Canadian starlets to golden memories of a fantastic two weeks of football.

Humble, elegant, full of verve, and with a sharp point to prove to numerous naysayers, each nation brought something different, yet equally crucial, to the inaugural global event that Team Canada coach Ian Bridge referred to as "a great moment for women's football…perhaps the greatest."

CONCACAF president and FIFA Vice President Jack A. Warner followed suit too, calling Canada 2002 "a football miracle." And looking ahead to Thailand, few would argue.

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