An overview of what happened during the third and final around of group games at the Olympic football tournament.
Kicking the action off on day three was Group G with Sweden vying to hold onto their 100% record in the group, and both the US and Australia trying to avoid disaster to reach the knockouts.
Fielding a much-changed team from their second match, the Swedes took a little while to get going against a resolute New Zealand team that at the very least, were keen to score in each of their three outings this summer. Despite early pressure from the Ferns, it was Sweden who struck first courtesy of an Anna Anvegård header. Erin Nayler was then beaten for the second time 12 minutes later as Madelen Janogy got on the scoresheet as well. The match passed without controversy as the Europeans eased their way over the finish line, keeping a determined New Zealand out until the end, earning back-up goalkeeper Jennifer Falk, a clean sheet.
At the same time in Kashima, the USA and Australia were playing out a scoreless draw. Although both had a few chances, the match remained a largely dour affair with both teams qualifying for the quarter-inals without incident.
Proving to be the least exciting group at the Olympics over the last week or so, the final matchday did not dispel that and could do little to spark Group E into life.
Still looking for their own ignition, Japan continued to toil at home and despite coming within millimetres twice, headed into the final 25 minutes scoreless against a Chile team ending their Olympic debut on a high. Having been defensively sloppy in both of their previous group games, the South American defence finally looked to have nullified an opponent. As the time ticked down, the team began to take more chances in the attack, almost safe in the knowledge that the hosts wouldn’t (or couldn’t) score. Indeed, La Roja very nearly took the lead when Francisca Lara’s effort bounced from bar to line before Ayaka Yamashita pawed it out of the air, with the officials happy that it hadn’t fully crossed the line.
The match was decided 13 minutes from time when Chile failed to fully clear their lines as the pressure mounted. Mana Iwabuchi’s pressure led to Mina Tanaka finding enough space so she could get her shot away ahead of Tiane Endler. The lone goal enough for all three points and a much more comfortable end to the day with progression wrapped up.
Back in Kashima, it was Canada who took the lead against a rotated Team GB squad. Ashley Lawrence’s nippy run up the left flank was capped off with a neat pullback across the box that Adriana Leon powered into the back of Ellie Roebuck’s net. With the match winding down, Team GB grabbed a late equaliser when Caroline Weir, who’d already seen a cross-cum-shot ping from bar to upright and stay out, set a hopeful effort goalward. A wicked deflection off of Nichelle Prince’s shoulder enough to completely wrong-foot Stephanie Labbé, and leave the back of the net rippling and the Brits at the top of the group.
Still with a chance of reaching the knockout rounds, Zambia were dealt a body blow 15 minutes in against Brazil when, after a lengthy VAR review, Lushomo Mweemba was shown a straight red for a challenge on Ludmila. The match quickly soured for the Copper Queens who, as well as being reduced to ten, lost goalkeeper Hazel Nali as the contact had taken the Brazilian attacker into the Zambian number one. The injury meant a second cap for Ngambo Musole whose first job was to pick the ball out of the net after Andressa Alves had sent an inch-perfect free kick (from Mweemba’s foul) into the back of her net.
Though many would have expected the floodgates to open after the first goal, they did not and Zambia put in their best defensive performance of the tournament, limiting the varied Brazilian attack with Musole taking care of anything more Seleção put on target.
The same defensive strength was, however, not on show 30 miles south of Saitama when the Netherlands and China were both involved in another defensive disaster class. Having proved to be highly defensively frail this summer, China’s inexperienced backline again took another heavy battering, starting in the 12th minute when Shanice van de Sanden used her pace to get behind the high defence on the counter. There was, however, brief hope for the Steel Roses when Wang Shanshan opened up her account at the Olympics when she was found by Wang Shuang and poked the ball home.
The parity was largely short-lived however when Lineth Beerensteyn fired in a brace within ten minutes just before the break, first breaking in behind the high line before her cross-cum-shot curled inside of the far post. Three became four at the start of the second half when Lieke Martens powered a header into the turf to beat Peng Shimeng. The goalkeeper was then beaten again 20 minutes by Vivianne Miedema’s worm-burner.
There was however some joy in Japan for China when, ten minutes into her senior debut, 22-year-old Wang Yanwen side-footed the ball into Sari van Veenendaal’s waiting net. There was to be no dreams of a manic comeback for the Steel Roses though and seconds after the restart, Martens reopened the four-goal gap with a low effort that Peng let dribble through her knees. Having scored her first senior goal against Zambia, Victoria Pelova bagged the second of her senior career with a near solo goal, before Miedema added the eighth and final goal at a corner 14 minutes from time.