Australia 0-1 Sweden
By Ben Gilby
Above: Fridolina Rolfö (18) jumps for joy after scoring the winning goal for Sweden. Photo: Getty Images
Sweden gained the place in the Olympic Final that they have so richly deserved for their performances across the Games with a 1-0 semi-final win over Australia in Yokohama.
Whilst the Matildas created plenty of chances, it was the supremely well-organised Swedes who were able to convert an opportunity just after the break to progress to the Gold Medal match against Canada on Friday. The influential Fridolina Rolfö was on target after Australian keeper Teagan Micah pushed a ball onto the bar which rebounded awkwardly for the Barcelona star to hook home.
The pick of the bunch for the Matildas was Tameka Yallop, who is consistently performing at the highest level under new head coach Tony Gustavsson. Not only was West Ham United’s new signing proving to be a menace from an attacking perspective and providing probing ball into the box, she was also getting back to put in a great defensive shift.
Sweden went into the game on an 11 game unbeaten run and had a record of scoring at least two goals in each game at these Olympics. Australia had only managed 18 shots on target in their four games in reaching this stage but scored 8 times from these efforts.
There were two landmark stats for The Matildas before kick-off as Kyah Simon became the first Indigenous Australian female to win a hundred caps for her country and Ellie Carpenter, at the age of just 21 earned her 50th cap – the second-youngest player in Australian women’s football history to do so.
The Scandinavians had plenty of early possession but once they settled, the Matildas resumed their careful, patient passing build-up that served them so well against Great Britain in the Quarter-Finals.
It was noticeable in the opening ten minutes that Carpenter was pushing forward from right-back with far more regularity than she did in her side’s previous match.
With 23 minutes gone, Sweden almost took the lead when Rolfö unleashed an absolute rocket from outside the box which came cannoning back off of the top of the crossbar.
This was a bright light in what was becoming an increasingly cagey affair. A player from either side required lengthy treatment in this spell with Matildas’ Hayley Raso going down on her hand and looking like potentially injuring several fingers and Amanda Ilestedt landing awkwardly after a challenge with Sam Kerr.
The longer the half wore on, the more the Australians grew. Extremely well organized at the back once more, they just needed to find that killer final ball to create a real chance at the other end.
With six minutes of the opening period remaining, Simon was fouled outside of the box, left of centre by Nathalie Björn. Alanna Kennedy stepped up and curled a free-kick towards goal which Hedvig Lindahl pushed over.
Three minutes later, The Matildas looked to have made the breakthrough when Catley curled another magnificent ball in which was met by Kerr with a superb first time volley, but referee Melissa Borjas blew her whistle. After the game it was revealed that two Australian players were adjudged to have blocked Swedish defenders further across the box from where Kerr made contact.
Spurred on, Australia threatened again and Caitlin Foord started a move which later involved Simon, Raso, and Emily van Egmond who played in Yallop to cross for Kerr to flick a header narrowly wide of the right-hand post.
Crucially, Sweden had survived an intense period of pressure unscathed. Half-time came at a good time for them to re-set.
And so it was that less than two minutes after the re-start, the Swedes found the net. Filippa Angeldahl’s shot deflected high into the air off of Chloe Logarzo with a large amount of spin put onto the ball which Micah did well to push onto the bar. As the ball came down, still with spin-on, it bounced high and Rolfö did well to lift it into the far corner of the net.
Australia responded well initially as a wonderful cross-field ball found Raso. The Everton midfielder played in for Carpenter. Her cross went towards Kerr in the centre, but Lindahl claimed.
Another cross-field ball created danger shortly afterward. This time towards Simon who found Yallop via Foord wide on the left. Lindahl saved again.
Yallop was having an outstanding performance popping up all over the park and putting in a superb shift wherever she was.
After this initial flurry, it appeared as though a degree of fatigue was settling in over Australia – not surprising given the short turnaround between games, extra time in the Quarter-Finals, and the high humidity levels.
Sweden were now on top with 65% of possession and clearly, it was time for Tony Gustavsson to make some changes to inject some more pace into the team.
On came teenagers Kyra Cooney-Cross (for Logarzo) and Mary Fowler (for Simon) and the wise head of Clare Polkinghorne (for Yallop).
Suddenly there was more energy in the Matildas ranks with Fowler a menace from the off. She had her first chance within four minutes of coming on when she was found by Raso and got an instant shot away.
Sweden still threatened though and Angeldahl took possession from Cooney-Cross and fed Rolfö but Carpenter tidied up at the back magnificently.
Catley created the Matildas next chance when she held off Sofia Jakobsson well and got a shot away which Lindahl pushed away for a corner.
Shortly afterwards it was another Australian corner when Hana Glas was forced to put the ball behind. Catley bent in another great set-piece but Kerr could only head over.
Fowler was offering herself all across the front line and becoming a thorn in Swedish sides, but the final ball was never quite on point.
With seven minutes to go, the Cairns-born teenager was brought down by Caroline Seger around 25 yards from goal in a central position, but the resulting free-kick was well over.
Four minutes later, Cooney-Cross played a dangerous high angled ball into the box towards Kerr who couldn’t quite reach it. Substitute Emily Gielnik raced in to follow up, but the Swedes tidied up.
Into stoppage time, Sweden looked increasingly assured of the win and had several chances to increase their lead.
First, Stina Blackstenius was ruled offside when she pulled a ball across for Kosovare Asllani to tap home. Rolfö was involved shortly afterwards when she managed to put in a cross despite at one point looking to have pushed the ball too far ahead of herself but, under pressure from sub Laura Brock, Blackstenius put her chance wide.
Right at the death, Lina Hurtig broke clean through and was in on goal with Carpenter chasing back. The Lyon defender pulled the Swede back and received a red card.
Shortly afterwards, the final whistle went, and with it, Australia’s hopes of a Gold medal.
They will though be exceptionally proud of their efforts in Tokyo as very few people predicted they would have gone this far. They will now rally together to face the USA on Thursday for the bronze medal, but they will have to do it without Ellie Carpenter who will be suspended.
The influence of head coach Tony Gustavsson has become clearer as the tournament progressed, and it is an influence that the whole squad clearly enjoy.
Steph Catley remarked: “I couldn’t speak more highly of Tony. Obviously, when he first came in, we really started from scratch and we didn’t have long,
“During those times where we were conceding a lot and losing games, he just kept saying we’re not peaking for now, we’re peaking for the Olympics and he really instils a belief in every single player that the preparation that we’ve done, is focused on bigger things.
“We were never worried, even though there was a lot of outside noise because we always knew that the focus was the Olympics and to be peaking right now and we truly feel that way,” she continued.
“All credit has to go to Tony and to the staff for instilling the motivation and the belief within this squad, that the process was happening and there were going to be speed bumps and blocks along the way, but the ultimate goal was to be where we are right now in a position to win a medal at the Olympics.”
Matildas star Sam Kerr agreed with the Arsenal defender: “I think you can see his personality is very upbeat, but the biggest thing is belief.
“We’ve always got to this point and fallen at the last hurdle and when he first joined, that’s what a lot of us said, that we just want to get there and get through and give ourselves an opportunity to win a medal because we really believe that we can, but we’ve just not been able to get over that hurdle.
“He’s really instilled that belief that we can do it and we can beat any team and play the way we want to play and I think you’ve seen that we’ve played every game, how we play, we haven’t changed for anyone and that gives us massive belief when we beat teams like Great Britain.”
Kyah Simon echoed her team mates’ opinions: “Passionate is definitely a word that springs to mind, first and foremost (when describing Gustavsson).
“Also his energy, his charisma and just his passion for his job and for our team.
“He hasn’t tried to force too much of his tactics and his style of play. He’s really formed his tactics, his philosophy and style of play to suit the players that we have and his understanding of our culture as well, it’s been really nice that we’ve gelled together.”
Whilst Australia have a lot to look forward to over the coming few years, it is the present that Sweden can enjoy.
They fully deserve to be in the final. They have been the most consistent top-performing team in the competition. Their next hurdle is the Canadians, who will be all out to make the most of their win over the USA in the battle for Gold.
Teams: AUSTRALIA: Micah, Carpenter, Kennedy, Catley, Raso, Van Egmond, Logarzo, Yallop, Simon, Kerr, Foord. Subs: Williams (GK), Cooney-Cross, Polkinghorne, Luik, Fowler, Gielnik, Brock.
SWEDEN: Lindahl, Glas, Ilestedt, Björn, Eriksson, Angeldahl, Seger, Jakobsson, Asllani, Rolfö, Blackstenius. Subs: Andersson, Kullberg, Bennison, Janogy, Hurtig, Falk, Schough.
Scorers: Rolfö 47
Referee: Melissa Borjas (HON)