Canada edge Sweden on penalties to win Olympic gold


Yokohama (Japan) (AFP) – Goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe saved two spot-kicks in a nail-biting shootout as Canada defeated Sweden 3-2 on penalties to clinch Olympic women’s football gold for the first time Friday in Yokohama.

Stina Blackstenius scored her team-best fifth goal of the tournament to give Sweden the lead, but Jessie Fleming’s penalty in the second half sent the match to extra time and it finished 1-1 after 120 minutes.

Labbe, the hero of Canada’s quarter-final shootout win over Brazil, saved from Anna Anvegard and Jonna Andersson as Sweden captain Caroline Seger missed a chance to win it when she blazed her attempt over.

Julia Grosso then squeezed her penalty beyond Hedvig Lindahl to trigger wild celebrations for Canada and their iconic captain Christine Sinclair, who had to settle for bronze medals at the past two Games.

Organisers relocated the final from Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium, the venue used for the athletics events, south of the capital to Yokohama and delayed kick-off from 11am to 9pm because of heat concerns.

Yet it was still 29 degrees Celsius (84.2 degrees Fahrenheit) as Sweden made their second straight appearance in the final. High humidity bumped the heat index up to 34C.

Sweden, runners-up to Germany in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, entered the final with a perfect five wins from five — including an opening 3-0 rout of the United States.

Four players from that silver-medalling winning side five years ago started here; Seger, Lindahl, Sofia Jakobbson and Kosovare Asllani.

Canada coach Bev Priestman unsurprisingly stuck with the starting XI that eliminated the USA, four-time Olympic champions, in the semi-finals.

Fridolina Rolfo, whose goal saw off Australia in the previous round, forced a save from Labbe with a curling effort from distance before Jakobbson’s header was palmed away. 

Sweden grabbed the lead on 34 minutes after Canada midfielder Quinn was dispossessed just inside halfway. Asllani countered and squared for Blackstenius to sweep home via a deflection off Vanessa Gilles.

Canada showed far more attacking intent after the break. Defender Ashley Lawrence had her effort hacked off the line after substitute Deanne Rose kept the chance alive following a spill by Lindahl.

Just like in the semi-final against the USA, Canada were awarded a penalty upon review as the 38-year-old Sinclair was caught by a lunging Amanda Ilestedt. 

Fleming again stepped forward, this time sending Lindahl the wrong way to bring Canada level. The Chelsea midfielder nearly bagged a quick-fire second, rifling narrowly over moments later.

Rolfo and Asllani wasted chances to win it for Sweden in normal time, and the exertions of playing six matches in 17 days in sweltering conditions made a shootout almost inevitable. 

Canada desperately scrambled the ball clear as Sweden threatened to snatch a late winner, but instead they watched their hopes of a first major trophy since the first Women’s European Championship in 1984 elude them in the cruellest of ways.

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