By Steve Milton, Hamilton Spectator
LONDON She has developed the reputation as one of the clutch snipers in Canadian women’s soccer history, but she never dreamt she’d complete the first week of play as the leading goal scorer in the Olympics.
“Not at all,” Ancaster’s Melissa Tancredi told The Spectator on Wednesday as she and her teammates prepared for Friday’s elimination-round matchup with far-more-surprising Great Britain in Coventry on Friday (2:30 p.m. EST).
“I just think we’re getting more opportunities. We’re stepping up our game and we’re creating something, getting more touches and making more crosses in the box. I just happen to have been at the other end of them.”
Tancredi’s two goals against Sweden Tuesday in Newcastle, including one with less than six minutes remaining to fashion a critical 2-2 draw in the final game of the group stage, give her four in the three games so far, one better than American star Abby Wambach and Great Britain’s Steph Houghton. She took crosses from first Rhian Wilkinson, then captain Christine Sinclair, muscling off defenders for body position on each.
According to Soccer Canada, Tuesday was the first time Tancredi has scored multiple times in an international match, but that may be because she likes to distribute her goals among important occasions.
She now has 22 goals internationally, but seven of them have been game winners and that tying goal against Sweden was just as significant as a winner because it left Canada as the best third-place team in the tournament, qualifying them easily for the quarter-finals and avoiding any possibility of playing the powerful U.S. The Americans eliminated the team casually known as Big Red in the quarter-finals of the Beijing Olympics, albeit in extra time.
Tancredi has eight goals for Canada this season, breaking her previous best by two and, hopefully, there is still a lot of footy left to play here.
Canada lost 2-1 to tough Japan in last week’s opener at Coventry, with Tancredi scoring the only goal, got back on track with a 3-0 rout of South Africa in Coventry, with Tancredi scoring the winner, and then tied favoured Sweden 2-2 with … well, you just read about it.
“We’ve got some momentum,” the 30-year-old Tancredi said. “Coming back against Sweden was important because it’s not something we’ve really done much against first-tier teams.
“Most of our veterans realized how important it was and we took it into our own hands. Yeah, I took some upon myself, too. I’ve been there before in Beijing waiting for someone else to determine your fate and didn’t want to go through it again. It’s agonizing.”
Great Britain went through its group shockingly undefeated after upsetting Brazil and its superstar Marta, 1-0, before more than 70,000 fans at Wembley. They’ll have all but a small handful in Coventry on their side Friday, too.
“It’s great to have that kind of fan support for the game,” Tancredi said. “We’ve played in Mexico, we’ve played before 90,000 in Brazil. It’s just another occasion that we have to rise to.
“They’re looking strong and are playing well together and they’ll have the home crowd behind them.”
Great Britain is an Olympic amalgamation, while England and Scotland have their own national teams. The last time Canada met England, whose players form the core of the British squad, was a 2-0 Canadian victory in the 2011 Cyprus Cup here. In this February’s Cyprus Cup, Canada whacked the Scots in the first round.
After struggling to find each other in the opening match, Tancredi and Sinclair are stepping into a sort of psychic rhythm.
“It’s more like reading, knowing when she’s going to put the ball across,” Tancredi explained. “We’ve been playing together for nine or 10 years now.”
Told that in the Hamilton area she’s become the story of the Olympics, she replied: “I love it. Keep it coming. I’ve got to give a big shout-out to Cathedral, they’ve always been fantastic.”
If they can get through Great Britain on Friday, it will be the first time the Canadian women will have advanced to the semifinal in the short, five-Games history of women’s football in the Olympics. Canada did not qualify for Atlanta in 1996, Sydney in 2000 or Athens in ’04 and lost in the quarter-finals to the U.S. at Beijing.
Tancredi will certainly have a big say — letting her feet, and her muscular body, do the talking — in whether or not they can take it a step or two farther this time.