Christine Sinclair won her first major tournament gold at 39 as the University of Texas’s Julia Grosso scored the decisive penalty for Canada in a sudden-death shootout with the back-to-back silver medallists Sweden.
A Jessie Fleming penalty cancelled out Stina Blackstenius’s first-half strike to force the game beyond 90 minutes. The veteran goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl and her counterpart Stephanie Labbé were the heroes with each team scoring only two of their first five penalties before the latter stopped the Chelsea defender Jonna Andersson’s tame effort and Grosso slotted in.
For those expecting a thriller to match the seven-goal spectacle between the USA and Australia in the battle for bronze the night before, there will have been disappointment. However there is a reason that Sweden and Canada progressed at the expense of the swashbuckling third- and fourth-placed teams. Sweden had conceded three times and kept three clean sheets on their run to their second successive Olympic final. Canada had similarly conceded three goals in normal time (the team’s 0-0 draw with Brazil went to penalties too).
It was perhaps inevitable that Sweden would strike first. In 2016 they scored four times across their six games as the defence powered them to the final, and the USA goalkeeper Hope Solo labelled the team “cowards” after the European side defeated the reigning world champions on penalties at the quarter-final stage.
In Japan, that defensive strength remained but they added goals, scoring 13 times in their opening five games, including inflicting a chastening 3-0 defeat of the USA in their opening game of Group G.
In 2016, Blackstenius struck in the 67th minute to reduce their two-goal deficit to one but with Sweden not having scored more than one goal in a game all tournament it would be Germany that would collect gold.
This time Blackstenius led the line ahead of Sofia Jakobsson, Fridolina Rolfö and Kosovare Asllani in a dynamic and evolved Sweden attack that had tasted the pain of silver in Rio and a double defeat to European champions the Netherlands, first in the quarter-finals of Euro 2017 and then in the semi-finals of the Women’s World Cup in 2019 (where they would beat England to bronze).
It took Blackstenius, who plays for Sweden’s BK Häcken, until the 34th minute to give Sweden the edge in the chess match playing out on the pitch as she poked in Asllani’s cross after the midfielder had danced past two defenders on the right.
As players grabbed water bottles from the touchline at every opportunity, the original mind-boggling decision of the IOC to hold the game in the searing 11am heat at the shot-put-cratered Tokyo Olympic Stadium looked even more ludicrous. As the clock had ticked towards the new 9pm kick-off at the replacement Yokohama Stadium, the temperature was 29C with 75% humidity and phones showed the “feels like” temperature as 34C.
Looking to get her players on the ball more Bev Priestman, the first English manager in an Olympic final since George Raynor in 1948, made two half-time changes, bringing on Grosso and the West Ham forward Adriana Leon.
It would be the introduction of Deanne Rose though, the player brought down for Canada’s penalty against the US in their semi-final, that would pull them back into the game. Her ball toward Sinclair caught the Swedish defence out, Amanda Ilestedt clipped the left foot of the veteran forward from behind and, after a two-minute VAR consultation, up stepped the 23-year-old Fleming to send Lindahl the wrong way and draw Canada level.
Canada too have suffered in this competition with back-to-back bronze medals in London and Rio having twice missed out on the final to the eventual gold-medalists both times, the USA and then Germany.
With Priestman’s astute substitutions having swung the momentum Canada’s way at each point the flagging legs needed a boost, they took their superiority into extra time. But Sweden would go closest, with a scrap in the box seeing the ball cleared off the line with three minutes remaining.
In the shootout, Asllani hit the post, Natalie Björn, Anna Anvegard and Jonna Andersson had their efforts saved, and the captain Caroline Seger blasted over for Sweden when the 36-year-old had the chance to give them gold. Lindahl saved from Ashley Lawrence and Leon, Vanessa Gilles crashed her strike off the bar. But Grosso stepped up to power home the winner.