Canada strike Yokohama gold in women’s football

YOKOHAMA, JAPAN - AUGUST 06: Julia Grosso #7 of Team Canada celebrates with team mates after scoring their sides winning penalty in the penalty shoot out in the Women's Gold Medal Match between Canada and Sweden on day fourteen of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at International Stadium Yokohama on August 06, 2021 in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. (Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)
YOKOHAMA, JAPAN - AUGUST 06: Julia Grosso #7 of Team Canada celebrates with team mates after scoring their sides winning penalty in the penalty shoot out in the Women's Gold Medal Match between Canada and Sweden on day fourteen of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at International Stadium Yokohama on August 06, 2021 in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. (Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)

The Canadians beat Sweden to claim the North American country's first-ever Women's Olympic Football gold medal via a dramatic penalty shootout after the final ended tangled at 1-1.

Canada claimed a first-ever gold medal in women’s Olympic football with a penalty shootout win over the Swedes after 120 minutes of regular and extra-time finished deadlocked at 1-1. The game, from the International Stadium Yokohama on 6 August, was a classic final and Canadian goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe was the hero on the day, sending her country to the top of the podium for the first time after a pair of bronzes in 2012 and 2016.

For the losing Swedes, it's their second straight silver medal after winning the same prize in Rio in 2016.

"It even looks prettier," Canada's veteran captain Christine Sinclair said about her first gold medal, which will slot right into the trophy cabinest beside her pair of bronzes. "I honestly can't believe what just happened. We had a goal coming here to change the colour of the medal and we landed on the top of the podium. It's such an honour to be a part of this special group."

The first half was a cagey affair through the opening 30 minutes, with very few clear chances for either side. But the Swedes, so impressive throughout these finals after beginning their campaign with a 3-0 dismantling of four-time gold medallists USA, took the lead in the 34th minute after a well-worked move.

Picking off a sloppy pass in midfield, the Swedes raced up the right side where Kosovare Asllani crossed low and dangerous through the Canadian penalty area. There, and looking to pounce as always, was Stina Blackstenius – one of the top players here in Japan.

The 25-year-old slotted home with her right foot to lay claim to the lead in the game and also the 100th goal of this women’s Olympic football tournament.

The Canadians, who eliminated favourites and rivals USA in the semifinals but had yet to score from open play in the knockout rounds, tried to haul themselves back into the contest at the interval.

And their endeavor paid off just after the hour-mark.

Sinclair, the world’s all-time leading goalscorer in international football, had a shout for a penalty in the 64th minute. After a VAR review, the penalty kick was awarded for a foul by Swedish defender Amanda Ilestedt on the 38-year-old Canadian striker.

Jessie Fleming stepped up to the spot for the second time in as many games. And this time she went to left (rather than the right against Team USA) and drew the scores level with under 25 minutes to go in regular time.

Change in momentum

Suddenly, and with a lifeline and new confidence from the equaliser, Canada went on the attack in a big way. Fleming – the former prodigy who made her Canada debut at age 15 – nearly put the North Americans into the lead in the 70th minute when she hit just over the crossbar from outside the box after a clever lay-off from Sinclair.

Jordyn Huitema came on to replace Sinclair as the 90th minute approached, but the PSG player’s injection wasn’t enough to keep the game from going to extra-time. And with six games played in the space of just 16 days here in Japan, fatigue began to show from the start of the bonus session.

There were precious few chances in the opening period aside from a long-range effort from Jonna Andersson that hardly troubled Labbe in the Canadian goal. And, in the second period, Canada's Huitema had a clear sight with her header while the Swedes saw two headed chances of their own go begging from Lina Hurtig.

But the game was destined for a penalty shootout -- Canada's second of the Tokyo 2020 knockout rounds. Sweden's Asllani hit the woodwork with the first kick of the post-game lottery and Fleming put the Canadians up with her second spot-kick success of the day (and third in two games.) After five kicks for each team, the shootout ended tangled at 2-2 with the Swedes having blown their chances when in the driving seat.

Canada turned the tables in the end, with goalkeeper Labbe making a pair of crucial saves and Julia Grosso scoring the decider to send the gold medal home to Canada -- and the team into celebratory hysterics.

The last bit of Olympic football action comes tomorrow (7 August) with a mouthwatering final between Spain and defending champions Brazil, also in Yokohama.