Soccer fans in Canada were in an uproar when their women’s Olympic team was beaten 4-3 by the U.S. in extra time in their semi final match on Mon. Aug. 6. The Americans won the game in the dying seconds on a header by Alex Morgan. Canadians, and those who are dead set at seeing the U.S. lose, were up in arms over several calls made by referee Christiana Pedersen of Norway.
Pederson, like all referees, has good days and bad ones. And while the job she did in the semifinal game may not have been perfect, she should be praised for having the guts to make the correct calls while other referees may have let the rule infringements slide. In case you didn’t see the game, Pedersen missed a possible handball call against the Americans in the penalty area when Megan Rapinoe controlled the ball with what looked to be her arm.
Several minutes later the referee called Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod for time wasting as she took approximately 11 seconds to release the ball while it was in her possession. Soccer rules clearly state that the ball has to be played within six seconds. An indirect free-kick was awarded to America and the kick hit Marie-Eve Nault as she appeared to place her arms in front of her body for protection.
Pedersen then called a penalty against Canada with 12 minutes to go due to the handball and Abby Wambach converted it to tie the game 3-3. There was no more scoring in regulation time and the game went to extra time with two 15-minute halves being played. This is when Morgan performed her heroics and won the game, sending the U.S. into the gold-medal final against Japan.
Pedersen flowed FIFA rules to the letter and is now being criticized for it by thousands of hypocrites. The referee said she had warned McLeod twice already in the game for holding onto the ball too long and wasting time. With just 12 minutes to go in the game and the keeper blatantly wasting time after two warnings, Pedersen made the right call. You can bet Canadian supporters would have praised her if she made the call against the U.S. for the same infringement if the roles were reversed.
The only lame argument the critics can come up with when berating Pedersen is that the time-wasting call is rarely made. This is a very poor argument and has no bearing whatsoever on the game. The free kick was deservedly given. When Nault raised he hands and the ball hit her arm, it was also the right call. If you want to build a wall when defending against a free kick that’s your prerogative. However, you can’t simply raise your arms and then say you were trying to protect yourself. That’s your problem. If you don’t want to get hit with the ball then you shouldn’t be in the defending wall then.
In addition, those who are bashing Pedersen said she cheated Canada and gave the game to the Americans. This is the most ludicrous of all their accusations. Pedersen simply awarded a free kick and a penalty, she didn’t award a goal. The goalkeeper’s job is to save a penalty and McLeod simply couldn’t do it. That’s not the referee’s problem. When Wambach scored the penalty there was still 12 minutes to play and another 30 of extra time. This means Canada had 42 minutes to come up with a winner and failed to do so.
It’s not the referee’s fault that Canada had leads of 1-0, 2-1. And 3-2 and failed to hold onto them. After the game, several Canadian players and head coach John Herdman complained about the refereeing. This included Canadian striker Christine Sinclair, who scored a hat trick in the match. It’s understandable that they were disappointed in their failure and the comments were made in the heat of the moment. FIFA said it would look into what was said, but ultimately decided no punishment should be doled out. She might have missed a couple of calls, but the ones she did make were spot on.
Apparently new reports have come out since the game in which Pedersen claims she also warned Sinclair, the Canadian captain, that McLeod was wasting time. Also McLeod has confirmed that she was indeed warned about it. The goalkeeper didn’t waste time while the score was level during the game, but each time Canada grabbed the lead, she started to take longer to release the ball.
The 31-year-old Pedersen referees between 30 and 40 soccer matches each year along with European handball. Her father Rolf, also a referee, said his daughter has always been one to play by the rules. Pedersen told her father she’d make the same calls again if she found herself in a similar situation, no matter who is playing. Pedersen isn’t allowed to comment on her refereeing performance due to Olympic and FIFA rules.
Many soccer fans around the world have been quite vocal by saying they want the current laws of the game enforced more rigidly. Well, Pedersen made sure they were called properly, and the abuse and criticism she’s now facing from these fans is purely hypocritical.