Canada beats Sweden on penalties to win Olympic gold in women’s soccer
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/08/2021 (670 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
YOKOHAMA, Japan – There was no Olympic heartache this time around for the Canadian women’s soccer team.
No controversy or last-minute heroics from the opposition like in 2012. No repeat of the semifinal elimination that followed again in 2016.
The Tokyo Games saw the Canadians make the long-awaited leap to the final and they took full advantage when they got there. And in dramatic fashion to boot.
Julia Grosso scored the shootout winner and Stephanie Labbé delivered in net as Canada won Olympic gold in women’s soccer for the first time Friday by topping Sweden 3-2 on penalty kicks. The teams were tied 1-1 after regulation and neither team scored in extra time.
“I dreamt about this moment last night,” said Canadian defender Vanessa Gilles. “I’m still not sure if I’m dreaming or not.”
Canada won bronze at the 2012 London Games and finished third again four years later in Rio. Sweden reached the 2016 final but settled for silver in a loss to Germany.
The Swedes controlled play through most of the opening half, with Stina Blackstenius opening the scoring in the 34th minute.
Canada charged out after halftime and Jessie Fleming equalized from the penalty spot in the 67th minute after captain Christine Sinclair was taken down in the area.
After 30 minutes of extra time, both teams scored on two of five tries from the penalty spot.
Labbé then stopped Jonna Andersson’s attempt to set the stage for Grosso, who delivered a hard shot to the left side of the net. Swedish goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl dived the right way but could only get a piece of the ball.
“This is a surreal feeling,” Grosso said. “I just feel like all our hard work has paid off. I honestly have no words.”
When the ball found the back of the net, the celebration was on. The ecstatic Canadian players ran down the field to mob Grosso and Labbé while the dejected Swedish players gathered at midfield to ponder what went wrong.
“I’m just like completely overwhelmed,” said Sinclair, a longtime Canadian team anchor. “We had a goal here to change the colour of the medal and we landed on the top of the podium.”
When the game went to penalty kicks — a first for this tournament in a final — Fleming gave Canada an early lead. Nathalie Bjorn and Olivia Schough tallied for Sweden before Deanne Rose came through on Canada’s fifth shot to pull even.
“They fought to the very, very end,” Canadian coach Bev Priestman said of her side. “They weren’t willing to let that slip. That’s a testament to all the players.”
Organizers moved the start time to 9 p.m. (local time) from the original 11 a.m. kickoff after both federations requested a change to avoid the peak midday heat and humidity.
The venue was also moved from Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium to International Stadium Yokohama, just outside the host city. It was still hot and muggy at game time, but more bearable than the sweltering conditions earlier in the day.
There were a few vocal pockets of team officials cheering on their respective sides in the mostly-empty 69,000-seat venue. Chef de mission Marnie McBean held a Canadian flag with outstretched arms during the playing of O Canada.
Neither team changed its starting lineup after 1-0 semifinal victories. Sweden went with a 4-2-3-1 formation while Canada used a 4-3-3.
Sweden attacked early and earned a corner kick in the second minute, but Labbé punched the cross away. Canada’s first chance also came off a corner moments later but a header by Gilles sailed well wide.
The potent Swedish offence used creativity and speed to keep the Canadians on their heels. Sofia Jakobsson set up Magdalena Eriksson inside the box in the 10th minute but her shot was just outside the far post.
The Canadians often tried to build the play by using their possession skills in the midfield area before springing forwards down the wings. Nichelle Prince made a charge midway through the half but her strike was off the mark.
Labbé was tested again in the 29th minute, forced to make a solid diving stop on a Jakobsson header.
Canada’s Quinn turned the ball over in the midfield shortly before the Swedish goal. Fridolina Rolfo took possession and sent Kosovare Asllani down the side.
She cut a low cross to Blackstenius for a one-timer, the ball slightly deflecting off the inside of Gilles’ leg and past the diving Labbé.
The eighth-ranked Canadians were confident entering the final after beating the United States 1-0 in the semifinal for their first win over the Americans in 20 years. The victory helped ease any lingering sting from a 4-3 U.S. semifinal win over Canada at the London Games nine years ago.
Sweden entered the final with a perfect 5-0-0 mark, with Blackstenius scoring four of her team’s 13 goals. Canada entered with a 3-0-2 mark and five goals scored.
Priestman made two substitutions to start the second half. Grosso came on for Quinn in the midfield and Adriana Leon replaced forward Janine Beckie.
The changes seemed to spark the Canadians, who played with more urgency after a middling first half.
“They let us come in at halftime only down 1-nil,” Sinclair said. “A team like ours will fight. We knew we’d get a chance and that came. Then you go into extra time and PKs and it’s up in the air.”
Priestman turned to her bench again in the 63rd minute by putting Rose in for Prince. The speedy forward made an immediate impact, helping set up the play that led to the equalizer.
As the ball was fed into the box, Sinclair was taken down by Amanda Ilestedt. The seated captain raised her arms in the air with an incredulous look at the non-call.
However, referee Anastasia Pustovoitova would turn to VAR review before pointing to the penalty spot. And like she did before Fleming’s goal in the semifinal, Sinclair picked up the ball and gave it to the midfielder.
Fleming’s strike from the spot was ideal. Her hard, low shot found the left side of the net as Lindahl dived toward the opposite post.
Sinclair, who leads all players with 187 career international goals, earned her 304th career cap for Canada. She was replaced late in the second half by Jordyn Huitema.
Asllani had a great chance before injury time with Labbé pulled out of position, but her shot was cleared wide by Kadeisha Buchanan. Fleming had a chance before extra time but her shot just cleared the crossbar.
Swedish substitute Lina Hurtig sent a header just wide in the second 15-minute session of extra time and Huitema did the same after some strong work by Rose on the wing.
Sweden nearly pulled ahead after a scramble in the dying minutes but Canada’s back line stood firm.
“We don’t make it easy on ourselves but man, we fight and claw and scratch our way,” Sinclair said. “It’s an honour to be a part of this group.”
During penalty kicks, players from both teams stood arm in arm at midfield while their teammates and coaching staff did the same from the sidelines.
Asllani hit the post with Sweden’s first attempt. Lindahl stopped Ashley Lawrence and Gilles hit the crossbar with Canada’s third shot.
Anna Anvegard was stopped by Labbé on Sweden’s fourth attempt and Lindahl made a similar diving save to deny Adriana Leon. Swedish captain Caroline Seger had a chance to win it but her attempt went over the crossbar.
“Shootouts are always challenging but as the ‘keeper, I like to think that I enjoy them because there’s no pressure on me,” said Labbe. “I’m not supposed to make saves and if I can make a save, it’s great.”
Rose, needing to score to extend the shootout, came through with a strong effort into the top corner before Grosso buried the winner.
“Honestly, the best feeling in the world,” Grosso said. “I’ve never felt like that in my whole life. It’s definitely a moment I’ll remember forever.”
Sweden outshot Canada 24-14 although both teams had just three shots on target. Sweden had a slight edge in time of possession.
The United States won bronze on Thursday with a 4-3 win over Australia. Canada improved to 6-14-4 in all-time head-to-head matchups against Sweden.
“This is like a sisterhood at this point,” said midfielder Sophie Schmidt. “We’ve been through the highs, we’ve been through the lows. We know each other so well.
“We will have these memories and this moment forever.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 6, 2021.
Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.
Updated on Friday, August 6, 2021 10:03 AM CDT: Adds photo