A wonderful Women’s Olympic Football Tournament reaches the semi-final stage
North American derby in Kashima sparks memories of a 2012 classic
Will freshness aid Sweden against Kerr-inspired Matildas?
History hangs over the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament semi-finals at Tokyo 2020. For Australia and Sweden, it’s of the recent type, with the two having met in the group phase little over a week ago. For USA and Canada, the memories are of a game from nine years ago that, to this day, is widely considered to be the greatest this tournament has ever produced. But who will write fresh history in Kashima and Yokohama? All will be revealed tomorrow.
From alternate to star? Named as an alternate in USA’s initial squad, Lynn Williams looked destined to continue making up the numbers when she failed to even make the bench for the world champions’ opening two matches. But Vlatko Andonovski handed the striker a surprise start for the quarter-final against the Netherlands, and she grasped her chance decisively with a goal and an assist. The question now: was it enough to retain her place and survive Andonovski’s rotation policy? So far, left-back Crystal Dunn has been the only US outfield player to have started all four of the team’s matches.
Echoes of a classic One Canadian newspaper lauded it as ‘The greatest game of women’s soccer ever played’. High praise indeed, and yet arguably justified, given the quality, entertainment and drama served up by Canada and USA’s last Olympic meeting at London 2012. Christine Sinclair will need no reminding, of course. She scored a hat-trick, produced arguably the best performance of a record-breaking career and still ended up on the losing side after a breathless and controversial encounter. Team-mate Desiree Scott described it as “like a storybook, without the fairytale ending,” and Olympic revenge would undoubtedly be sweet for the Canucks’ veteran skipper.
A tall order for a supreme striker Although Australia lost 4-2 to Sweden in the group stage, Tony Gustavsson described his side as having “dominated”, even acclaiming their performance for the first hour of the match as “close to perfect”. It is certainly true that the Swedes, like most teams at this Olympics, had struggled to contain Sam Kerr. Of the players still active in the tournament, Kerr is the leading scorer with five goals (Sweden’s Stina Blackstenius has four). But as prolific as she undoubtedly is, the Matildas striker will do well to claim the overall tournament lead, with Vivianne Miedema (ten) having set the loftiest of benchmarks.
Fatigue to be a factor? With a game every three days to negotiate, the Olympic Football Tournaments are by their nature relentless and physically draining. Extra time merely adds to the intense physical demands, and as the only team to secure their semi-final place inside 90 minutes, Sweden may enjoy a crucial advantage. “I think we’ll see the benefit in that the longer the game goes,” said Caroline Seger, captain of a side who also enjoyed the luxury of rotating their squad in the group phase after qualifying with a game to spare. “I don’t expect to see it at the start because Australia will be fresh and extremely motivated. But this is a tough tournament, extra time takes it out of you, and we need to take advantage of them having had more football in their legs.”