Canada win through to their first Olympic final
They beat USA for the first time at the Olympic Games
Ashley Lawrence won her 100th cap
“I feel so happy. It’s reward for all our hard work and sacrifices,” said a jubilant Ashley Lawrence after Canada’s hard-earned and historic 1-0 defeat of USA in the semi-finals of the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament on Monday, a win secured by Jessie Fleming’s penalty 15 minutes from time.
It was the 62nd meeting between the North American neighbours, 51 of which had been won by the Stars and Stripes, including their two previous Olympic encounters. The first of those was a 2-1 reverse for the Canadians in the quarter-finals at Beijing 2008, and the second a 4-3 loss in the semis at London 2012.
“It was about ten years ago,” recalled Lawrence. “I was at home with my family and it was that USA-Canada game that inspired me and made me want to play for the national team. It’s just crazy all these years on to be playing a semi-final against the same opponents. It feels surreal to me.”
Little would Lawrence have suspected back then that she would be on the field of play on the day of the rematch, celebrating her 100th cap.
“It’s the best thing, I can tell you,” the 26-year-old full-back told FIFA.com. “I can barely believe it’s my 100th. Time just goes so fast. It was a really special match for me. I’ve played against USA so many times and they’re always tough games. It’s the first time I’ve beaten them and it’s the first time we’ve beaten them at the Olympics. It’s such a huge win. We gave it all we had, and every game I play for this national team is an honour for me. It’s just amazing to celebrate my 100th cap with a win like this.”
Is it a win that means the Canucks are about to start turning the tables on their all-conquering neighbours? “You’ve got to start somewhere,” came the reply. “As far as we’re concerned, the story goes on. We’ve had a lot of close games with USA and we were confident this time around. For us it’s not just about this game, though. We know we’re playing for our country, for all the youngsters watching us, just like me when I watched that team on TV in 2012. That was what inspired and motivated us today.”
Lawrence gave a superb display on the left flank, once again repaying the faith shown in her by former Canada coaches John Herdman and Kenneth Heiner-Moller and by current incumbent Bev Priestman, who was appointed in 2020.
“Ashley has played nearly every minute of this tournament,” said the English coach in the post-match press conference. “She’s been a key player for us, both in defence and in attack. If you ask me, I don’t think she’s rated highly enough. She’s one of the best full-backs in the world to my mind. She’s shown the full range of her talent in this tournament. Like Jessie [Fleming], she’s part of a generation that’s still young but has a lot of experience already. What a 100th cap for her.”
Lawrence also had a word for her team-mate, the hero of the night: “Before every game we decide who’s going to take the penalty. Jessie said she felt good and she showed how calm she is today and how experienced she is, despite her age. The great thing about this team is that we all have confidence in each other, no matter how old they are or how many caps they have. Jessie took her responsibilities and we are proud of her.”
When the celebrations die down, the Canadians will prepare for their final match of Tokyo 2020, against Sweden, who saw off Australia in the other semi-final. Can they kick on and go all the way after consecutive bronze medals at London 2012 and Rio 2016? “Now that we’re in the final, we’re definitely going to change the colour of the medal, come what may,” said Lawrence. “We’ve got our sights set on gold and we want to go down in history.”