Swedes hold nerve to end hosts' golden dream
Sweden progressed to the final of the Women's Olympic Football Tournament, guaranteeing themselves a medal in the process, by seeing off hosts Brazil 4-3 on penalties after a goalless 120 minutes at the Maracana. It was Lisa Dahlkvist who scored the winning penalty once more, after scoring the decisive spot kick to decide the quarter-final against USA.
At a bubbling Maracana, the anticipation levels for an exciting match between the hosts and the side they conquered in the group stages was heightened to fever pitch ahead of kick-off.
When the action got underway, the player most had come to see was in full flow. Marta displayed her full array of tight control and dribbling skills in her attempts to unlock the Swedish defence. She found stern opposition in the Swedes, who had learned their lesson after that 5-1 defeat ten days ago. A strong defence and packed midfield sat behind either Stina Blackstenius or Lotta Schelin, who alternated in taking the lone role up front in the opening period.
Despite their defensive structure, the first opportunity fell to Sweden. Nilla Fischer’s long ball to Lotta Schelin saw the skipper control the pass inside the penalty area but she fired her shot over the crossbar.
Debinha then had a couple of opportunities for the hosts, pouncing on a deflected Thaisa shot but hitting over the crossbar before seeing her header from a Tamires cross saved by Hedvig Lindahl.
Brazil went closest in the first half when Dahlkvist headed just wide of her own post following a devilish Marta corner. Another headed opportunity then went begging for Brazil, with Beatriz thwarted by Lindahl.
The second half saw the tension raised up a notch, with neither side able to create the clear-cut opportunities that would seal the game in normal time. Blackstenius found herself in space inside the Brazilian penalty area, but fired straight at Barbara.
After the hour mark, Brazil pressed and pressed, dominating possession for long periods, but the hosts were unable to find the breakthrough and the game headed to extra time.
Into extra time, Schelin went closest, nodding a Kosovare Asllani corner just wide of a statuesque Barbara’s right-hand post in the first half of the added period before breaking into the Brazilian box in the second period but firing wide.
Despite a late scramble, which saw Lindahl and her defence make multiple blocks from first Raquel Fernandes and Cristiane, neither side could find a way through - and it was to be another penalty shootout for each of these sides.
Cristiane was first to blink, missing the hosts' second penalty, before Barbara saved her No9, after doing so for Marta in the previous shootout against Australia, by stopping Asllani's penalty effort.
However, it was to be heartache for Andressinha, with the diminutive No17 seeing her spot kick saved by Lindahl before Dahlkvist sent Sweden through to the gold medal match. They await the outcome of the second semi-final between Germany and Canada to see who they will face at the Maracana on Friday.