History beckons for Sweden and Canada
Women’s gold medal match pits Sweden against Canada
Christine Sinclair facing the first global final of a record-breaking career
Emerging standouts and evergreen icons in focus at Tokyo 2020
Firsts are rarely assured in football, but the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament concludes on Friday with a cast-iron guarantee of witnessing one.
Whatever the outcome, a new Olympic champion will be crowned as Sweden and Canada contest the gold medal match and look to become just the fourth nation to top this particular podium.
Both know that victory will represent the greatest achievement of their teams’ respective histories. And with the stakes this high, the players on show will step on the field with a golden opportunity to become national heroines.
Friday 6 August
Sweden-Canada Yokohama International Stadium, 21:00 (local time)
Sinclair’s long wait ends She’s scored more international goals than anyone – of either gender, of any nationality – in football history. But Christine Sinclair, 38 and a veteran of five FIFA Women’s World Cups and four Olympics, has never played in the final of a major global tournament. Until now, that is. After back-to-back bronzes at London 2012 and Rio 2016, she now has the chance to add a golden sheen to her glorious career. “Job one is done for us: changing the colour of the medal,” Sinclair said after claiming “a little revenge” against old foes USA in the semi-finals. “Now that we’re in the final: we go for it!”
Golden oldies living up to the name Although Sinclair stands out, she is far from the only venerable veteran set for a prominent role. Team-mate Sophie Schmidt, 33, has been showing the experience gleaned over 16 years and 200-plus international appearances, while Stephanie Labbe (34) has performed heroics in goal. Sweden, too, have been built around an influential, experienced core, with 36-year-old captain Caroline Seger – the European appearance record holder – a cool and classy controlling force in midfield. And while Hedvig Lindahl (38) dazzled in Rio, this Olympics – her fifth – might just be her best yet.
Star graduates coming of age As these stalwarts continue to defy the advancing years, it’s clear too that a younger generation of Swedes and Canadians are flourishing on the big stage. The players concerned provide a reminder that, for a glimpse of the game’s future stars, FIFA’s youth tournaments remain the place to look. Stina Blackstenius, for example – Sweden’s top markswoman here in Japan – also led the scoring charts five years ago at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Papua New Guinea. Jessie Fleming, Canada’s heroine in the semi-final win over USA, is another celebrated graduate, having starred at two age-level events in 2014: the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Costa Rica and the U-20 event in her home country. Fleming will be facing an opponent she knows very well indeed: her club captain, Magdalena Eriksson. “I’ve was in touch with Jessie after Canada’s first win. I wrote, ‘I hope we see you in the final’,” said the Chelsea skipper. “It was more of a joke at the time but I’m so happy it’s come true. It’s been so cool to see her have such a good tournament because Jessie’s an incredibly hard-working girl and really deserves everything she’s achieved.”
A new test for Sweden’s penalty heroine These sides did, of course, meet at the last major international tournament: the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup™. You might recall that, on that occasion, it was two players at opposite ends of the experience spectrum who made the difference for Sweden: Blackstenius with the only goal, and Lindahl with a brilliant penalty save to thwart Janine Beckie. The veteran keeper spoke at the time of benefiting from a keen knowledge of Beckie and her spot kick-striking preferences. But with Fleming’s inch-perfect semi-final winner having surely secured her position on penalties duties, will Lindahl enjoy similar success should the same situation occur?