Canada Get It Spot On

Sweden 1-1 Canada

Canada win 3-2 on Sudden Death Penalties.

Above: Canada’s players mob Julia Grosso after she scored the winning penalty in the sudden death shoot out. Photo: Reuters.

By Ben Gilby

Canada won their first ever major international women’s football competition with victory in an Olympic Gold medal match of quite staggering drama.

Sweden were the better team in the first half, but a half-time re-shuffle by the Canada’s head coach Bev Priestman changed the momentum until they finally clinched the win after an astonishing penalty shoot-out that went all the way to sudden death.

Both sides named unchanged starting line-ups from their semi-final wins and made just one change apiece on the bench. For Sweden, Anna Anvegård replaced Madelen Janogy with Jayde Riviere, who was suspended for the semi-final win over the USA, coming in for Gabrielle Carle.

Canada reached the final despite only registering nine shots on target in their five games leading into the Gold medal decider, but they did score five goals out of those nine efforts, which is a good return.

They also boasted, in Consett-born Bev Priestman, the first English person to coach an Olympic Games football finalist since George Raynor led Sweden’s men to Gold at the 1948 London Olympics with a 3-1 win against Yugoslavia at Wembley.

Canada fashioned the first opportunity with six minutes played as Nichelle Prince raced down the right to win a corner. Janine Beckie curled it in and Vanessa Gilles headed wide.

Sweden replied when the influential Sofia Jakobsson found Magda Eriksson who popped up on the left and fired a shot narrowly wide of the far post.

Fridolina Rolfö was well marshalled all night long by Allysha Chapman and it took her almost 20 minutes to show her dangerous ability when Stina Blackstenius played her in and she curled an effort which was held by Stephanie Labbé in the Canadian goal.

Labbé denied Sweden again just before the half hour mark when Rolfö’s cross was met by the head of Jakobsson but the Canadian keeper made a great one handed save.

Five minutes later, the Swedes went ahead when Quinn was caught in possession and the ball found its way to Kosovare Asllani who turned it across for Blackstenius to side foot home.

Above: Stina Blackstenius celebrates after putting Sweden ahead. Photo: Getty Images.

Once more at these Games, Sweden were able to score in the period in which they were in the ascendency. They were stretching the Canadian midfield and profiting wide, particularly on the right hand side. It remained 1-0 at the break.

At this point, Bev Priestman made two hugely important changes, with West Ham United’s Adriana Leon coming on for Manchester City’s Janine Beckie and Julia Grosso replacing Quinn.

Immediately Canada went on the offensive with Leon’s movement causing problems for the Scandinavians and linking up well with Prince. Grosso was solid and made Canada that bit tougher to break down.

Sweden weathered the initial storm, but just after the hour mark Canada were level. Rose’s cross was met by Christine Sinclair who got a touch before being fouled by Amanda Ilestedt just before the Swede made contact with the ball, and VAR ruled that it was a penalty.

Canada’s 23 year-old starlet Jessie Fleming stepped up, and just as she did in the semi-finals, smashed the ball home for 1-1.

Fleming came close to putting her country ahead when the Chelsea player hit an effort narrowly over the bar when she was found by Leon.

With fifteen minutes left, Peter Gerhardsson made a triple change which, once more changed the momentum of the game as the Swedes dominated the last ten minutes.

Rolfö hit an effort narrowly wide after a throw in was cut back to her and then Asllani combined with Lina Hurtig only to be denied by a sensational last ditch challenge from Desiree Scott.

Scott was working her magic at the back for Canada in this period, but it was Kadeisha Buchanan who made the most important block of all as she cleared Aslanni’s effort off of the line with just a minute of normal time remaining.

The final chance of the 90 minutes fell to Fleming who hit another long range effort over the bar.

Above: Penalty box aerial battles in the first half of the final. Photo: Getty Images.

Extra-time was anything but cagey as both sides created opportunities. Ashley Lawrence’s high, deep ball into the box caused chaos in the Swedish defence which eventually led to Grosso creating space for herself to shoot from the edge of the box, but Hedvig Lindahl gathered.

Nine minutes into the first period, Riviere lost possession and Hurtig broke through and found Blackstenius who shot wide of the right hand post.

Just before half time in extra time, Jonna Andersson, on as a sub came agonisingly close for Sweden as she unleashed a vicious drive from 25 yards which went narrowly over the bar.

Sweden had the upper hand in the final period of extra-time, but Canada’s well organised defence kept the Scandinavians at bay.

Lina Hurtig missed two golden opportunities with headers that went wide and there was a ten second pin ball effect across the area with Canada blocking shot after shot before making the final clearance. Not long afterwards the final whistle signalled that the Gold Medal would be decided by a penalty shoot-out.

Shoot outs are always dramatic, but there are shoot outs and then there was the shoot out to decide this match.

It see-sawed from the very start. Kosovare Asllani stepped up for Sweden and smashed her shot against the right hand post, with Jessie Fleming giving Canada the advantage by coolly dispatching her spot kick into the bottom left hand corner.

Above: Christine Sinclair (12) with Julie Grosso. Photo: Getty Images

Nathalie Björn got Sweden off the mark when her mid height effort went into the left hand side of the net. Then, up stepped Ashley Lawrence whose shot was the perfect height for Lindahl to save. 1-1.

Sub Olivia Schough put the Swedes ahead when her penalty found the left hand corner and this success was increased further when Vanessa Gilles’ effort hit the bar.

Anna Anvegård then missed for Sweden to give Canada momentary hope with her shot being the right height for Labbé to save, but Sweden remained ahead as Adriana Leon’s less than powerful shot was saved by Lindahl.

Then, up stepped Caroline Seger, who knew if she scored Sweden would take the Gold Medal. It seemed fitting for her to take what was potentially the winning kick, 16 years on from her national debut and having the status as Europe’s most capped player. Yet Seger’s effort went high over the bar and Canada were off the hook.

Deanne Rose knew she had to score to keep her country in the game and she succeeded by smashing her penalty into the top right corner.

So, we were into sudden death. First up was Jonna Andersson. The Chelsea defender hit a weak effort which Labbé easily held. For the first time in the shoot-out, the advantage was with Canada. Julia Grosso stepped up to seal the Gold Medal for the North Americans. What a rollercoaster ride.

Photo: Julia Grosso strikes the winning penalty in the sudden death shoot out. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP/Getty Images.

The outcome of this final may be scant reward for Sweden’s outstanding tournament in which they dismantled the USA and carved a path through every other team to this decider. Yet on the day, they met an exceptionally well coached Canadian side who got their tactics and changes absolutely on the money throughout.

Canada worked their socks off and showed great skill to take the Gold Medal. There are enough talented youngsters in this team to suggest that the USA are not going to be the only North American country competing at the sharp end of major international tournaments in the coming years.

Teams: SWEDEN: Lindahl, Glas, Ilestedt, Björn, Eriksson, Angeldahl, Aslanni, Seger, Jakobsson, Blackstenius, Rolfö. Subs: Andersson (for Eriksson 75), Kullberg (for Ilestedt 120), Bennison (for Angeldahl 75), Anvegård (for Rolfö 105), Hurtig (for Jakobsson 75), Falk, Schough (for Blackstenius 105).

Scorers: Blackstenius 34.

Penalty Shoot-Out: Asllani (missed), Björn (scored), Schough (scored), Anvegård (missed), Seger (missed), Andersson (missed).

CANADA: Labbé, Chapman, Buchanan, Lawrence, Gilles, Quinn, Scott, Sinclair, Fleming, Prince, Beckie. Substitutes: Zadorsky (for Scott 120+1), Rose (for Prince 63), Grosso (for Quinn 46), Leon (for Beckie 46), Sheridan, Huitema (for Sinclair 86), Riviere (for Chapman 93).

Scorers: Fleming (pen) 67.

Penalty Shoot-Out: Fleming (scored), Lawrence (missed), Gilles (missed), Leon (missed), Rose (scored), Grosso (scored).

Referee: Anastasia Pustovoitova (Russia)

Photo: Shelina Zadorsky (4) consoles heartbrokes Swedish players after the sudden death penalty shoot out. Photo: Edgar Su/Reuters.

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