Tight margins mark semi-final encounters

2 Aug 2021
  • Canada eliminate world champs USA

  • Jessie Fleming’s spot-kick the difference between the sides

  • Sweden also make final with single-goal win over Australia

The prevailing atmosphere in the two Women’s Olympic Football Tournament semi-finals was one of tension, with both matches decided by a single goal. First Canada took long-awaited revenge over reigning world champions USA for their defeat at the same stage at London 2012 thanks to Jessie Fleming’s penalty. The result means there will be a new Olympic champion after USA, Norway and Germany. The Canadians will face Sweden in the gold medal match after Fridolina Rolfo netted the only goal of the game against Australia just after half-time.

The results

USA 0-1 Canada

This repeat of the legendary 2012 semi-final, which USA won 4-3 after extra time on their way to winning a third successive gold medal, was a cautious encounter from the start, with both sides keen to ensure defensive stability before venturing forward. Stars and Stripes goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher was forced off with an injury after half an hour, with Adrianna Franch coming on to replace her. While both teams struggled to create clear goalscoring opportunities throughout, Canada were awarded a penalty after a VAR check confirmed that Tierna Davidson had fouled substitute Deanne Rose inside the 18-yard box. Fleming stepped up to slot the resulting spot-kick into the right-hand corner, and USA were unable to launch any meaningful attacks in the closing stages.

Australia 0-1 Sweden

Again, both sides were very tentative in the first half of this match before Rolfo tried her luck and rattled the Australian crossbar with a long-range effort after 23 minutes. Hedvig Lindahl was called into action for the first time to save Alanna Kennedy’s free-kick just before the break, before a Sam Kerr header whistled narrowly wide of the post. The only goal of the game came just after half-time when the Australians failed to properly deal with a long ball and Rolfo pounced to finish from close range. Despite this setback, Australia pressed for an equaliser and had several good opportunities to do so through Kerr (in the 55th minute) and Steph Catley, but were unable to make the breakthrough they desperately needed.

After an uncharacteristically quiet match, Stina Blackstenius had a gilt-edged chance to put the result beyond doubt in stoppage time, before Ellie Carpenter saw red for a cynical foul.

Key moments

No Naeher, no spot-kick saves After 30 minutes of the match between USA and Canada, goalkeeper Naeher was forced off with injury, having been the hero of the Stars and Stripes’ shootout win over the Netherlands after saving three penalties. She was replaced by Franch, who was making her seventh international appearance and her first at a major tournament.

It might be slightly unfair to contemplate – after all, Franch did not make a single mistake and even dived the right way for Fleming’s match-winning penalty – but it is a question worth asking nonetheless: would Naeher have saved the day by stopping yet another spot-kick? Knowing what happened in the last game, would Fleming have been more nervous if she had been facing the USA’s No1?

KASHIMA, JAPAN - AUGUST 02: Carli Lloyd #10 of Team United States looks dejected following defeat in 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)

Unhappy anniversary I Carli Lloyd played her 311th game for USA today to draw level with Christie Rampone as the Stars and Stripes’ second-most capped player of all time. With Christine Sinclair also playing for Canada, the match was the first to feature two players with at least 300 international caps each.

"[She’s] one of the greatest players that’s ever pulled this jersey on. It was probably – I mean, who knows, it might not be her last Olympics but it probably is," said Megan Rapinoe after the final whistle. "Obviously we want to send everybody out on the happiest note and we weren’t able to do that today." A historic victory We like to talk about historic events in football, but the term was fully deserved today. Canada’s win over USA was their first over their neighbours since 2001, and only their fourth ever in 62 meetings.

Unhappy anniversary II Two of Australia’s players were also celebrating major landmarks today. Kyah Simon became the ninth Australian and the first player with indigenous roots to reach the magic milestone of 100 international caps, while Carpenter played her 50th match for the Matildas at the tender age of 21. Her memories of this achievement will be far from happy, not just because of the defeat but also because she was shown a red card moments before the final whistle.

Impressive Swedish run Before the gold medal match against Canada, Sweden, who have been able to win all their matches at Tokyo 2020 in regular time, can take confidence from an impressive run: Meanwhile, the Blagult are undefeated in their past 17 matches, winning 14 of those. They have also kept a clean sheet in 11 of those 17 games, shutting out Australia tonight. Neighbours Denmark were last to defeat Tony Gustavsson's side in March 2020.

The stat

20 - It has been 20 years since Canada’s women last recorded a win over USA. It was also only their fourth-ever victory in 62 international encounters with their southern neighbours.

The quote

"Christine [Sinclair] just took the ball to keep it away from the US players and give it to me. I felt confident and focused to take the shot. I’d known since yesterday I was going to take that penalty, and I knew how I would take it." Midfielder Jessie Fleming who scored the match-winning spot-kick for Canada

The fixtures

Gold Medal Match 6 August, 11:00 local time (04:00 CEST) Sweden – Canada Olympic Stadium, Tokyo

Bronze Medal Match 5 August, 17:00 local time (10:00 CEST) Australia – USA Ibaraki Kashima Stadium, Kashima