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Loss leaves Canadians steaming


MANCHESTER, England -- At the end of the game, Christine Sinclair stood alone on the field, hands on her hips, staring.

At the Americans celebrating. At her teammates crumpled on the grass. At the officials walking off. At her own shattered dream.

"Devastated," Sinclair said. "We feel like we didn't lose. We feel like it was taken from us. It's a shame in a game like this that's so important the referee decided the result before it started."

That's a very strong statement, but the bitter Canadian women were full of strong statements after Monday's 4-3 overtime loss to the United States. Goalkeeper Erin McLeod said her team "outplayed the Americans the entire game." Their coach called the refereeing "bizarre decisions."

Their anger was over a chain of events that began with about ten minutes of regulation left to play, with the referee's call against McLeod for stalling. At the time, Canada was up 3-2, the third time it had taken the lead on the U.S. The call -- which came without an official prior warning -- resulted in an indirect free kick, which resulted in a hand ball call against Canada, which led to a penalty kick by Abby Wambach and to the U.S. reclaiming a tie.

"It was shocking," said Sinclair.

Sinclair, 29, is one of the great players on the planet. But not that many people know the native of Burnaby, British Columbia, because she plays for a team that rarely plays in the international spotlight.

Canada has made it to the semifinals of a major tournament only once in their history - at the 2003 World Cup, when Sinclair was a 20-year old college student at the University of Portland. Other than that, their best showing in either a World Cup or Olympics was a quarterfinal loss to the U.S. in Beijing four years ago.

But on Monday, Sinclair finally had her showcase game. And she shined. She scored a hat trick -- three goals. She put Canada ahead in 22nd minute, slipping through the American defense.

"I felt like a sitting duck," said goalkeeper Hope Solo, who has been battling Sinclair since their college days in the Northwest at the University of Washington and Portland, respectively. "She was wide open in the six-yard box and she had me to my left or to my right."

Sinclair scored again in the 67th and the 73rd minutes -- the last two goals on devastating headers.

"I think we're the better team in the air, but we didn't win those air battles as much as we would like to," Solo said.

But three goals weren't enough. Sinclair would have needed a fourth to secure the win.

"I just want to help our team win," she said. "In big games, big players re expected to turn up. And I tried to do that."

With Sinclair's three goals, and Abby Wambach's one goal on the penalty kick, the two players moved into a tie for second place on the most goals scored in international games, at 143. Mia Hamm has the most at 158. Sinclair also set a Division 1 record for goals with 39 in 2004, leading Portland -- for the second time in her career -- to an NCAA national championship.

"I think it's kind of funny, with my career that I've had, that people wouldn't know it," Sinclair said.

But stars are made in the international spotlight and Canada hasn't played in many big games. They've also been owned by their neighbor to the south. Monday's was their 27th game without victory against the Americans, a streak dating back to 2002.

Before the game, Pia Sundhage warned her team that they really had only one thing to worry about.

"Where is Sinclair playing?" Sundhage said before the game. "This is the first question we will try to figure out."

They never could figure it out on Monday.

"What a wonderful player," Sundhage said. "She was a handful."

But at the end of the game, the handful felt empty. And devastated. And robbed.