Women's football in Tokyo: Canada stuns US to reach final

Canada, the bronze medallist in the previous two Olympics in London and Rio, now faces last edition’s silver medallist, Sweden, in the final.

Jessie Fleming of Canada celebrates with teammates after scoring their first goal from the penalty spot against the United States at Tokyo 2020.   -  REUTERS

The moment Jessie Fleming found the United States net from the spot, Canada turned a new chapter in the annals of women’s football. Not only was it a convincing performance against its mighty neighbour, it was also the first occasion for Canada to play the final in the Olympics. For the record, Canada put up a convincing performance in the semifinal against the United States to beat it by a solitary goal, at the Kashima Stadium on Monday.

Canada, the bronze medallist in the previous two Olympics in London and Rio, now faces last edition’s silver medallist Sweden in the final. Sweden got the better of Australia by a solitary goal in the other semifinal at Yokohama with Fridolina Rolfo scoring the winner in the 46th minute. Sweden’s win came on the expected lines. It is a team that has been the most consistent among all the participants,winning all its matches within the regulation time in the group league stages and then in the knock-outs so far.

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What became the talk of the evening was the way Canada avenged its controversial loss against the United States in the semifinals of the 2012 London Olympics. Leading by a goal till the 80th minute, Canada was on the receiving end of a series of contentious referring decisions which ultimately resulted in a penalty. The United States scored from the spot to equalise and later won the match by scoring in the stoppage time of the extra time.

Christine Sinclair, who had scored a hat-trick at the 2012 semifinal at the Old Trafford to raise Canada’s hopes of making it to the final, was one of the two players from the London Olympics team who are also part of the current Canadian side. The 38-year-old attacking midfielder, who is currently the all-time leading international goal scorer for both men and women with 187 goals to her name, was visibly overjoyed as her side was able to realise the motto “change the colour” that has been the team’s battle cry following back-to-back bronze medals. 

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This was only the fourth occasion that Canada has been able to beat the United States in a total of 64 meetings. And it was the first time after two decades that Canada was able to register a win against its famed neighbour. That is the reason why the win at the Kashima will be resonating most profoundly in Canada’s footballing achievements so far.

The way Canada recovered from a stage of early struggle to dictate terms near the finishing stage was a remarkable story. Canada initially was rattled by persistent attacking by the United States and could not move beyond the half line in the first quarter of the action. The Canadians recovered in the latter half of the opening session and gradually started getting their grip on the action. Fleming struck from the spot in the 74th minute as a VAR review confirmed that the United States defender Tierna Davidson had pulled down substitute Deanne Rose inside her own box. 

The United States, the four-time champion which played every final since 1996 except at the last Games at Rio, suffered a psychological blow losing its seasoned voice of support in the goal, Alyssa Naeher, to injury in the 19th minute. Naeher, who made three crucial penalty saves to dislodge the Dutch in the quarterfinals, was a big absence in the defence that seemed to bother the Americans till the end.

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