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Olympics: Canadian Team: Soccer

Kara Lang celebrates a first half goal that was disallowed. Canada's women's soccer team opened up its Olympic tournament with a 2-1 win over Argentina Aug. 6, 2008 at the TJ Olympic Center Stadium in Tianjin, China.
Candace Chapman celebrates after scoring Canada's first goal of the tournament. Canada's women's soccer team opened up its Olympic tournament with a 2-1 win over Argentina Aug. 6, 2008 at the TJ Olympic Center Stadium in Tianjin, China.
A sweat-soaked team salutes the crowd as Canada's women's soccer team opened up its Olympic tournament with a 2-1 win over Argentina Aug. 6, 2008 at the TJ Olympic Center Stadium in Tianjin, China.

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That's one for Canada!

Canadian soccer gals edge Argentina 2-1 to kick off their Olympics on the right foot

By TERRY JONES

TIANJIN -- When Diane Matheson tapped the ball to Melissa Tancredi to get the game going, it was an emotionally overwhelming, even historic, moment.

It was a simple action which starts every soccer game, but this time it was the first time a Canadian women's soccer team had ever been in the Olympic Games, the first time any Canadian soccer team had been here since the men made it to the Los Angeles 1984 Olympics. It was also the beginning of competition at the Beijing Olympics a full 51 hours before the opening ceremonies in this city of 11 million near the coast, a three-and-a-half hour media bus trip from Beijing's 18 million people.

GIRLS OF SUMMER

But to several of Canada's girls of summer, the main emotion that came from this was an Olympics they were supposed to be in four years ago after finishing fourth in the Women's World Cup. And to at least one, maybe Canada's best player in a 2-1 win over Argentina, it just emphasized to her what they'd missed by gassing that qualifying game to miss the chance to experience all of this.

"If I had known how huge this entire experience was going to be, I would have been more upset than I was about not making it four years ago - and I don't think I could possibly have been more upset," said Kara Lang, the 22-year-old who scored the winning goal with a header in the 72nd minute.

"This experience is just such a huge honour. You can't tell people what a big deal this is. You can't explain the magnitude," she said as she stood in a uniform so soaked you'd think she'd just climbed out of a dunk tank.

"It was the emotions of all this which made it the most difficult," said Christine Sinclair.

"We were really struggling with it. Being in our first Olympics really made us anxious. When they played the national anthem today it gave us all chills. It means so much. For the first 10 or 15 minutes, it was everything that was going on around us. We were in the Olympic Games."

Rhian Wilkinson said their making history this night gave them more trouble than Argentina.

"With the history, the emotion and everything, I think you could tell," she said. "It was hard to keep our emotions in check. In the first half we were very uneven and making mistakes we haven't made in months."

The game wasn't the story this night, although for the record Candace Chapman scored the first Canadian goal in the 27th minute and Argentina's Ludmila Manicler scored one in the 85th minute.

The Canadians, ranked ninth in the world, were clearly the stronger side, as one would expect against the No. 29-ranked Argentina team they'd defeated 5-0 in the recent Peace Cup in Korea. But this was a win through emotions and conditions more than it was No. 9 beating No. 29.

In 32C heat in 84% humidity at the start of the game and 94% at the end, with smog coming into play on the very first day of competition after blue skies earlier had the Canadian girls taking pictures of air, this was a payoff for being frequent fliers here for a pair of tournaments and last year's Women's World Cup.

They've been here on four different trips in the last 18 months and that might have been the difference in this one game, at least. And in there somewhere is the hope, too, because 14th-ranked China is up next for them back here Saturday night after the host nation scored an inspired 2-1 win over third-ranked Sweden in the second game Wednesday night when the Swedes wilted in the end.

"I don't know any way you can gauge how much our experience playing here may have helped, but I think we were much more prepared for it than them," said Lang.

"I think today was the worst," she said of the smog. "Maybe it was that it was mixed with the humidity and everything."

FAVOUR CHINA

One would think that all of this should favour China Saturday if conditions remain the same. They play in it all the time.

"I don't know the science behind it," said Lang. "But you'd think they'd have an advantage. But maybe less of an advantage against us.

"I just don't see how anyone can adapt to that," said Wilkinson. "If anything their lungs should be deteriorating more and we should be running them off the field."

But playing China in China in the Olympic Games?

"We played Mexico in Mexico to qualify for this," said Sinclair. "These fans aren't that hostile. It's not like playing in Mexico with all those Mexicans screaming at you."

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