By Michael Lewis
LONDON - Wearing an Olympic bronze medal, Canada is feeling good about itself: confident about its ability and comfortable hosting the 2015 Women's World Cup being considered a legitimate title contender.
It comes with a 1-0 victory over France on Thursday in the third-place match at the London Games. It came three days after a 4-3 loss in extra time to the United States and after it was outshot 18-4 France but still prevailed.
"This group of players has raised the bar. That's the exciting thing now," coach John Herdman said Friday. "We could obviously have come out of this tournament as a fourth-place team, and then we'd still have been striving to get to that tipping point.
I think the tipping point happened (three) days ago. Now, the bar's been raised. We finished third in the world. We broke into the top tier for the first time.
"We're now at the top of the game. We've finished third in the world and that's a massive achievement."
Herdman and his team have other challenges - like catching the United States, which earned its third successive gold medal and fourth overall with a 2-1 victory over Japan on Thursday night.
"The job now is to stay there and get closer to the USA," he said. "That's what I'm asking for the whole of Canada to get behind this team. They've raised the bar, now we've got (three) years to inspire the nation to get behind the team. Let's make 2015 even bigger and better than this."
Herdman was most proud of how his charges were able to overcome the loss to the United States, which included two disputed calls late that led to the Americans' equalizing goal.
"We've said all along the tournament is going to have twists and turns," Herdman said. "You get luck and you don't get luck, that's the beauty of tournaments that makes them really interesting.
"That's where I've got to take my hat off to the girls. They could have easily got caught up in all the emotion and the hype around that game but they stayed on task."
The bronze medal comes a year after Canadians lost all three games at the Women's World Cup in Germany, scored only one goal and were eliminated in the first round.
"We all had to take a step back from the game and re-evaluate," defender Rhian Wilkinson said. "I know a lot of the senior players actually really considered leaving this side and ending our careers, but John came in and reminded us why we really loved the game."
Herdman, who replaced Carolina Morace, made his point by putting a picture of an Olympic medal on his desk on his computer.
"I know everyone was looking at it at first thinking it's a huge thing to achieve," Wilkinson said. "But as we got closer and closer to this tournament and started to advance we started recognizing that he put that seed in our mind a year ago, when he first came in."
While Diana Matheson was the goal-scoring heroine against France, commentators have opined how striker Christine Sinclair was the player who carried Canada, leading all scorers in the tournament with six goals - three against the United States.
It's gotten to the point where a Canadian media campaign is pushing her to be the country's flag bearer in Sunday's closing ceremony.
"She's a special woman," Herdman said. "Canada has been to watch her play for so many years, and I think there's been a bit of a void in her career that was filled last night."
"She's been a servant to this country for so many years. She's inspired so many kids. When we go to Vancouver and train there, the kids will be just hanging around waiting to get a glimpse of Christine. Last night and particularly the hat-trick against the United States, that's legendary stuff. That was just unbelievable and all credit to her. She deserves everything she gets in life."
The unassuming Sinclair said she was humbled to be considered, but with her prize already in hand, it's something she would have to share.
"If it were to happen it would be a huge honor," she said. "But I'd want my teammates right there with me."