Canada break through in an Olympics like no other

8 Aug 2021
  • Stars emerged and surprises abounded at Tokyo 2020

  • Canada upset USA and Sweden to become the fourth nation to win Olympic gold

  • Banda, Miedema, Labbe and Lloyd among the players to hit the headlines

The reconvening of the top female players at a major tournament is always an occasion worth celebrating and savouring. But given everything that’s happened in the wider world since the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™, Tokyo 2020 – played, of course, in 2021 - felt like a particularly noteworthy triumph.

It was also a reminder that, amid all the tumult across the globe since that glorious French summer, there have been significant changes in women’s football too.

You wouldn’t have known it at the beginning of this tournament, when a familiar star cast – including the likes of Carli Lloyd, Christine Sinclair and the miraculous Formiga – assembled on the Olympic start line. The quality of play, which had reached new heights in 2019, was also maintained, albeit without packed stadiums and appreciative crowds to enjoy it.

But there were plenty of differences too, and by the time Sinclair and Canada burst through the tape in Yokohama, the established order had received an almighty shake-up.

Defining matches

Sweden 3-0 USA USA arrived at Tokyo 2020 as heavy favourites, and this wasn’t simply down to their status as record four-time Olympic champions and winners of the last two Women’s World Cups. A 44-game unbeaten run certainly suggested that they were as formidable as ever. But the erstwhile undefeated Vlatko Andonovski didn’t just see his side lose their opening match to an inspired Sweden; he oversaw USA’s worst-ever Olympic defeat, and the team’s heaviest in any competition since 2007. It was a match that ultimately set the tone for both sides’ Tokyo 2020 campaigns.

Great Britain 3-4 Australia Game of the tournament? For pure entertainment, this one was hard to beat. Billed as a showdown between two of the tournament’s deadliest strikers, Ellen White and Sam Kerr, this quarter-final met and then exceeded expectations. White did not, in truth, deserve to be on the losing side, having scored a superb hat-trick in a match that ebbed and flowed in either direction. But Kerr also rose to the occasion, bagging a brace as the never-say-die Matildas edged a seven-goal thriller in extra time.

KASHIMA, JAPAN - JULY 30: Sam Kerr #2 of Team Australia celebrates with team mates after scoring their side's fourth goal during the Women's Quarter Final match between Great Britain and Australia on day seven of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Kashima Stadium on July 30, 2021 in Kashima, Ibaraki, Japan. (Photo by Hector Vivas - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Sweden 1-1 (2-3 PSO) Canada Ahead of this final, few questioned the Swedes’ status as Tokyo 2020’s most impressive team and title favourites. An unblemished run of five wins from five had been strung together in style, after all, and when Stina Blackstenius fired them in front during a one-sided first half, gold seemed to be within their grasp. Penalties, though, allowed Canada to make history instead, with semi-final heroine Jessie Fleming levelling from the spot and Stephanie Labbe pulling off a couple of vital stops in the shoot-out that followed.

Standout players

Barbra Banda: Tokyo 2020’s breakout star, the 21-year-old Zambian illuminated the group stage with sparkling performances and six goals in three matches for the African debutants. An awesome blend of athleticism and ability seems certain to establish Banda as one of the most feared forwards in the world game.

Vivianne Miedema: In the entire history of the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament, no player had ever managed more than six goals in a single edition. This Dutch master managed eight in the group stage alone and departed on ten, having bagged a brace in a dramatic but ultimately heart-breaking quarter-final against the US.

Stephanie Labbe: Finally established as Canada’s undisputed No1, the 34-year-old’s tournament was the stuff of goalkeeping fairy tales. Labbe certainly emerged as the most influential player of the knockout rounds, producing shoot-out heroics against Brazil and Sweden either side of keeping a rare Canadian clean sheet against their American nemeses.

Stina Blackstenius: With her goal in the final, this impressive striker became her country’s all-time top scorer at the Women’s Olympic Tournament on seven overall (five of which came at Tokyo 2020). She eclipsed the erstwhile record of Sweden legend Lotta Schelin and, having scored in the 2016 decider against Germany, became only the third player - after Americans Tiffeny Milbrett and Carli Lloyd - to find the net in multiple gold medal matches.

Notable numbers

3 of USA’s 6 matches at Tokyo 2020 ended without an American goal. This resulted in more goalless matches for the world champions than in this tournament’s six previous editions combined.

4 nations have now won the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament after Canada swelled the ranks of this exclusive club, joining USA (4 titles), Norway (1) and Germany (1).

20 years without a win against USA was the miserable run that came to an end for Canada in the last four. The 1-0 victory in Kashima was just the fourth time in 62 encounters that the Canucks have prevailed in this oft-played North American derby.

KASHIMA, JAPAN - AUGUST 02: Jessie Fleming #17 of Team Canada celebrates after scoring their side's first goal from the penalty spot during the Women's Semi-Final match between USA and Canada on day ten of the Tokyo Olympic Games at Kashima Stadium on August 02, 2021 in Kashima, Ibaraki, Japan. (Photo by Alex Livesey - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

23 goals – an incredible average of 5.75 per match – were scored by the Netherlands in this, their Olympic debut. In doing so, the European champions obliterated the existing scoring record, set when USA scored 16 en route to winning gold at London 2012.

43 years and four months was the age at which Formiga became the oldest player to appear in the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament, surpassing the record set by former team-mate Meg (40 years and seven months in 1996). Remarkably, this masterful midfielder can boast of having participated in every edition of this tournament – all seven of them!

101 goals were scored at Tokyo 2020, comfortably setting a new record for the Women's Olympic Football Tournament. The previous benchmark, a comparatively modest 71, had been laid down at London 2012.

312 USWNT appearances was the tally on which Carli Lloyd ended Tokyo 2020, taking her ahead of Christie Rampone as the Americans’ second most-capped player (Kristine Lilly still leads the way on 354). Lloyd also became the team’s leading Olympic scorer, eclipsing Abby Wambach’s erstwhile record with her ninth and tenth goals at the Games.