Down Under thunder

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:11 AM ET

CHENGDU, China -- Some, like Kara Lang, sprawled on the grass and wept. But most, like Christine Sinclair, just sort of stood there is shocked disbelief.

"We're all sort of stunned," said Canada's star striker, who only moments earlier had scored the goal that looked to send Canada through to the elite eight of the FIFA Women's World Cup again.

UPSIDE DOWN

But in the second minute of referee's time, Canada's World Cup turned upside down, and instead the team from Down Under was moving on and Canada's girls of summer - the team that finished in the final four in 2003 - was headed home.

As they make the three-hour flight from here to Shanghai and the 12-hour trip to Vancouver, they'll be trying to get a grip on what happened to them.

Dealing with two minutes that transformed success to failure will be the toughest part.

"It was just a roller-coaster," said Sinclair, who scored four goals in the tournament.

The 24-year-old Canadian captain, who had scored what looked to be the winner against Australia in the 85th minute, watched helplessly at a scramble in the box at the other end as Australia captain Cheryl Salisbury came up from the back to send it home and send the Matildas on, a 2-2 tie being good enough to finish second in the group.

Some players had tears in their eyes - like Lang and keeper Erin McLeod, who had to pull herself from the game after a hit to the head because she couldn't see straight. But there was no sugar coating the 2-2 tie which was no better than a loss, no matter how dramatic.

They were unanimous. They failed.

"The people back home are allowed to be disappointed with us. We're disappointed in ourselves," said Sinclair.

"We were two minutes away from advancing. That two minutes has nothing to do with how we prepared or anything that we did.

"We played three good games. We almost upset Norway, one of thetop teams in the world and this was a game we could have won. But we didn't. We didn't get out of our group. We expected to do better than this."

Lang, the 20-year-old who sailed several shots over the net and will have her own personal regrets from this game, said the real kicker is how this team felt about each other.

"We really believed in our team. It's just so disappointing to go home when you didn't get the job done. It's heartbreaking.

"For sure it's a big letdown. We had high hopes. We didn't realize our goals. We were so close."

McLeod was great in goal until she was forced to pull herself in the 79th minute because of blurred vision.

"After what this team accomplished at the last World Cup, we set the bar very high for this team. We set our goal to get back to the final four. Those were our expectations."

Coach Even Pellerud said it would have been easier if they'd lost instead of tied the game.

But he did no second guessing of his girls or himself.

"We know we're doing the right things," he said.

If misery loves company, at least they have that. Sweden, the team that lost the World Cup final to Germany four years ago, also failed to advance.

On the flight to Vancouver, the Northern Girls have no choice but to make a commitment to each other to bounce back from the shock of this and create a success at the Beijing Olympics.

Four years ago this team made the medal round at the World Cup but didn't qualify for Athens.

Now they have no choice but to try to write the story the other way around.

BAD TASTE

"We have to go home and build on this. We have a bad taste in our mouth," said Lang.

"Four years ago we thought we were going to beat Mexico and we were going to be in the Olympics. I don't think we worked as hard as we could have," said Sinclair.

What happened here will add hunger and motivation to get there, she insists.

"We have to qualify for the Olympics and come back here and prove we're not just an average team. That's all we've got going now."


Photos