Above: Team Canada lines up for its game against South Africa – Sami is number 17, third from the right.
The opening ceremony of the Maccabiah Games was fabulous, and not unlike what I imagine being at the Olympic Games opening must feel like both for the athletes and the spectators. It was a big show, but the part I liked best was when they announced each of the 80 countries and they then walked into the stadium behind their flags.
For me it was very emotional (yes, I shed a tear) as I watched Team Canada enter the stadium knowing that Sami was experiencing it like few others get to do in their lifetime. Truly one of the highlights of my life, right up there with Zach topping the honour roll in his graduation year…
All of the U18 soccer games have been played in Haifa with Team Canada’s first pool game being played against Great Britain. From the very outset the Canadian team had Great Britain on the back foot, being first to the ball and demonstrating superior passing skills. It was a football lesson in the making.
Although incredibly hot (34C) at our kick off time of 2:00pm, the saving grace was that both team suffered equally in the heat, with Canada running our easy victors 4-0.
After a two day rest our next game was against Israel, who are one of the powerhouse teams of the competition, having won their first game over South Africa 20-0. Our girls were determined from the start and played a tight and strong defence, with lots of scoring opportunities for both teams. By half time both teams had hit the crossbar, but neither had found the net.
The second half continued at a cracking pace, with each team equally falling short when faced with scoring chances, but to be fair the goalies were amazing on both teams and at full time it was a 0-0 draw much to the chagrin of the Israeli coaching staff who had expected to bury Canada in similar fashion to their earlier opponents.
Team Canada’s final pool game was against South Africa, this time the kick off was at a merciful 6:00 pm, so out of the true heat of the day even though it was still a balmy 30C, just no direct sun which was a welcome change for the girls.
I was a little apprehensive watching them warm up, as I could tell they were pretty cocky and expecting that they would come out and do as Israel had done and completely demolish the South African team. Yeah, that’s all good in theory but as soon as the game started it was obvious that Team Canada was completely out of rhythm and definitely not the disciplined, quick passing team I’d witnessed in the previous two games…oh no, far from it.
It seemed as everyone was cramming into the forward line and wanting to score a goal…which just congested the game and made in virtually impossible to have any real scoring opportunities.
Not surprisingly South Africa got a big kick out from their goalie, which bounced over our defenders heads, which then caused confusion as to who was going to get the ball, but before they could figure it out the South African striker seized the opportunity to outrun our defence and slotted home a nice goal.
Everyone was in shock! Not only on the field, but also in the stands….complete silence except from the South African fans who were now dreaming of the unimaginable.
Fortunately the referee called a water break – which, frankly has been a godsend during the long hot games. Perfect timing for the team to regroup. It was obvious from the Canadian coach’s body language that he was giving the girls the dressing down which they clearly deserved.
After the break Team Canada immediately reverted to its normal playing style and within a minute of the break had scored a goal to equalize. Which then opened the floodgates to what would become a 7-1 route for Team Canada.
Sami has been starting on the bench for each of the games, and had been a solid contributor in every match. Against South Africa she came on around the 15 minute mark and I could see that over the course of the tournament that her confidence had been growing with every minute she’d played,
Her big opportunity came around the midway point of the second half as the ball was crossed in from a corner, she was in the perfect spot as the ball seemingly dropped at her feet after getting through the traffic. And as quick as a flash she surgically slotted the ball into the back of the net with a beautiful strike. (Yes, this is another time where I teared up…)
Wow – so awesome to watch your daughter play on the world stage and score in an international match!
So now that we were out of the pool round, we finished the tournament with two wins and a tie, but because Israel had a better goals average (remember they beat SA 20-0) they ended up top of the pool, which meant the only way through to the gold medal match would have to be by beating the USA…yep, they were the only team that won all three pool matches. This was always going to be a tall order!
As you know upsets can happen at any time and at any level, and I was hopeful going into the game that we could upset the USA, but alas it wasn’t to be…
It was clear from the outset of the match that they were the best team in the competition and beating them would literally be a miracle. Alas, it wasn’t to be and although Sami and her teammates played their hearts out it just wasn’t enough. The USA ran out winners by a scoreline of 4-0.
I’m writing this with Canada facing Australia in the Bronze medal match scheduled for this Sunday morning at 11:00 am. The gold medal match between USA and Israel is at 5:00 pm.
All I know is that Sami has had a wonderful tournament, she’s thrived on the international stage and loved playing at this level. As you can imagine its been the thrill of a lifetime to watch her play and I’m so very proud of her and her teammates in getting this far in the tournament.
Fingers crossed that Canada beats Australia for the Bronze on Sunday…don’t worry it’ll likely be the only time you’ll ever hear me say that!
Go Sami go!