Canada’s Women’s National Soccer Team overcame Sweden in a dramatic penalty shoot-out in Yokohama to become Olympic soccer champions for the first time, the nation’s first Gold Medal in the sport in 117 years.
After falling behind to a first-half goal from Stina Blackstenius, Canada rallied to equalize in the second half through a Jesse Fleming penalty kick and holding on through the end of extra time to win the Gold Medal Match 3-2 in a penalty shoot-out during which seven out of the twelve kicks were not converted.
21-year-old Julia Grosso, who was born five months after captain Christine Sinclair made her international debut in 2000, scored the decisive sudden-death penalty after Sweden led and had the chance to win the competition only for captain Caroline Seger to blaze her penalty over the crossbar.
It is not, however, the first time that Canada have won Olympic soccer Gold. In 1904, at the St. Louis Games, a men’s team representing Canada from Gait (now Cambridge), Ontario became Olympic champions by defeating the Christian Brothers College and St. Rose Parish from the United States to top a group and win a skeletal three-team tournament.
Canada’s English-born coach Bev Preistman joins an elite group from her country to win a major international soccer tournament. Since the war only George Raynor who led Sweden to Olympic Gold in 1948, Sir Alf Ramsey who managed England to their only World Cup victory in 1966 and Portsmouth-born Jill Ellis who led the United States Women’s National Team to successive victories in the 2015 and 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup have coached a winning team in a major global soccer championship.
Priestman also maintained the recent run of success for female coaches in the women’s game. Despite being the only female coach to make the semi-finals of the Games, she nonetheless came through to follow in the footsteps of April Heinrichs in 2004, Pia Sundhage in 2008 and 2012 and Silvia Neid in 2016 as women who have led their teams to Olympic Gold in the last five Games. The last two Women’s World Cups and last six Women’s Euros have also been won by teams led by female coaches.
Silver medalists in Rio de Janiero during the last Games in 2016, Sweden have once more come up just short in a major international tournament. Since winning the first women’s European championship in 1984, Sweden have reached the last four of fourteen separate international tournaments, a remarkable level of consistency for a nation of just over ten million inhabitants. However, the ultimate prize has always eluded Sweden who, since 1984, have also finished runners-up in three Women’s Euros, the 2003 World Cup and now successive Olympic Games.
The two teams had been instrumental in ensuring the final took place in Yokohama, with the Gold Medal Match initially scheduled to be played at the National Stadium at 1100 local time to avoid a clash with the night’s Athletics program. After playing every previous match in the tournament in the evening to avoid Japan’s notorious summer heat and humidity, Sweden and Canada both made a formal complaint to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and FIFA asking for the kick-off time to be altered.
It was a request that was eventually granted yesterday with the match moved to the Yokohama International Stadium with a new kick-off of 2100 local time. Sweden had also been at the forefront of a campaign before the Games to extend tournament squads from 18 to 22 due to the potential of positive Covid tests ruling out players during the competition.
Having won the Bronze medal in 2012 and 2016, “changing the color of the medal” had become a initiative for Canada Soccer outlined in their 2019-2021 Strategic Plan. That they have achieved with a first Gold medal securing their best-ever performance at a major women’s international tournament. President Dr. Nick Bontis said “we are both proud of the success of our Women’s National Team and inspired by the legacy they continue to create for the next generation of Canadian stars.”
After the match, 38-year-old Canadian captain Christine Sinclair refused to call time on her 21-year international career, “at the very least we have a victory tour coming up” she said. “I headed into this tournament knowing I’m not going to make a decision out of joy or sadness. I’ve never done that in my career, that’s not how I make decisions so who knows?”
Finally an Olympic champion in her fourth Games, Sinclair, the world’s all-time record international goalscorer also used the opportunity to remind her country that greater investment is required in soccer. “I hope we inspired a lot of people back home. I hope we will see some investment in the women’s game. I think it’s time that Canada got a professional league or some professional teams and if a Gold Medal and three Olympic medals doesn’t do that, nothing will. It’s time for Canada to step up.”