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Olympic Roundtable Part II: The Summer of Rolfö

Andre called it in our first roundtable and he was right. We add on that moment with everything else that caught our attention at the tournament

Sweden v Australia: Women’s Football - Olympics: Day 1 Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images

In our previous roundtable, we expected the USWNT, Sweden and a combination of the Netherlands, Team GB and Japan to finish with medals. At least one of those teams, Sweden was a correct prediction. The USWNT and Australia still have a chance to medal while Canada are guaranteed one, the only unknown being whether it’ll be Silver or Gold.

We’re back again, not with predictions this time, but with moments and people during the Olympic women’s soccer tournament that stood out to us the most.

KM: The most important question of them all, who would you say was/is the Player of the Tournament?

SL: Andre knocked it out of the park when he said it was going to be the Summer of Rolfö. She has been immense. We already knew she had the work rate, historically doesn’t seem to be hailed as the star of any of the teams she’s played on, but she’s really been giving it the beans in horrible conditions/humidity. She’s still as selfless as ever but she’s happy to also line one up from range because, sauce. In the semi-final (against Australia), she was the only Swede who wasn’t knocked off her game by Australia’s tactics and went to work as usual.

AC: I never get predictions right so I’m hesitant to act like I got one right but I think Fridolina Rolfö. has put together the most consistent, high-level performances throughout. Also, the set up and execution of the nutmeg of her Group G goal against Australia makes me so insanely happy.

CO: I will happily endorse the Rolfö love. She’s been superb. For Sweden, I also want to shout out Kosovare Asllani who has faded a bit but, to me, was the single player who most fully defined the tournament-defining crushing win over the USWNT on Matchday 1. Some other attacking players who deserve some notice despite relatively early exits: Vivianne Miedema who shattered the tournament record for goals, and Barbra Banda, who turned a ton of heads. I’ll also close with two Canadian defenders, Ashley Lawrence and Vanessa Gilles.

SL: I’m about one-more hype-y tweet about Lawrence away from a restraining order (jk, jk) so I’m just going to silently nod along in agreement.

20210724 China v Zambia - Tokyo 2020 Olympic Womens Football Tournament Photo by Pablo Morano/BSR Agency/Getty Images

KM: Circling back to an afore mentioned player, as someone from a country that borders Zambia I’m going to add a quick paragraph praising her. Barbra Banda, please stand up and receive your flowers.

In that part of the world, women’s soccer isn’t a thing. It genuinely isn’t. To even have a team ready to go is pushing the limits of everyone involved physically, mentally, emotionally and financially. A few things we in southern Africa have in spades though? Perseverance and pride in our work. We will do whatever it takes to achieve our goals and once we reach them, we will put in everything we have to do ourselves, our family and our country proud. Barbra Banda stood up to be accounted for and made sure that everyone would remember her name. She showed guts, guile and a skill level that surprised every opponent and viewer who got a chance to witness her in action. She may not be from my country but I couldn’t be prouder of her and the rest of her team. They represented their country and the rest of sub-Saharan Africa to the best of their ability and showcased themselves brilliantly at every opportunity. Banda reminded the world that just because our little corner on Planet Earth isn’t as well-known, and despite Zambia being a small nation, it doesn’t mean those of us from there won’t show out when we get the chance. Zambia and Banda have my respect forever.

KM: Right, now on to the coaches. Who do we think was the best coach and why? Don’t all rush ahead quickly and say Peter Gerhardsson even though I think we’re all in agreement here. I’ll add on Tony Gustavsson as my second choice.

CO: Australia’s definitely the team that has most significantly outperformed my expectations. In fact, Zambia and Australia might be the only teams to do so. I’m not sure whether Gustavsson should get all the credit for it but it certainly puts him above almost everyone else. However, yes, Gerhardsson is the clear number one and it’s not close. What he’s done with Sweden over the past cycle has really been incredible. It obviously helps to have great— and adaptable — players but you still have to know what to do with them. He clearly does.

SL: Peter Gerhardsson has been leading the way for women’s national teams managers for so long. The guy is a proper dude. Tony Gustavsson has done so much in such a little space of time. As well as being solid tacticians, both have done so much in terms of confidence building and getting their players to believe in themselves and their football. This is a controversial shout but I’d throw Hege Riise into the mix as well. Yes Team GB went out making the same mistakes that we’ve seen from England and Scotland in previous tournaments but again, it’s about what she created off the pitch in a short space of time. It’s been so, so, different from the previous three England managers. She deserves plaudits for the environment she created AND the decisions she made, the gambles she took, were the right ones. Can you tell that I’m a big Riise fan and have a lot of thoughts about it?

(Yes we can Sophie).

AC: Yeah it’s hard to pick anyone but Gerhardsson. He’s managed the squad very well and has made sensible tactical choices. So I, as a supporter of the USWNT, have been very jealous watching how he’s worked and succeeded with Sweden during this tournament.

KM: Honorable mention for Bev Priestman?

AC: I thought about Bev! They weren’t the most convincing in the group stages but kept Brazil and the USWNT scoreless in back-to-back matches and over 210 minutes of play.

CO: Honestly, I don’t really think Canada has played especially well. Which feels cruel to say but I think they’ll be perfectly happy with the results, and not worry too much about what some guy on a website thinks about them grinding things out.

SL: There’s a nice little narrative about Phil Neville not being able to beat the USWNT but his assistant managing to do it.........but I digress. I tend to agree with Charles about Canada’s style of play right now but I don’t know if we’re seeing the Bev Style™ yet. It seems much more like she’s looked at the calendar and opted for more continuity from the Kenneth Heiner-Møller era. Thus leaning into, shall we say, a more restrained style.

KM: Which team would you say surprised you the most, good or bad?

SL: Every team was the one team that surprised me the most. Maybe it’s just part of life being as weird as it is these days but every team, be it for good or bad reasons, surprised me.

AC: Bad would be the USWNT for me obviously. I didn’t expect a Gold medal but I didn’t expect the midfield to not be able to pass to one another. The good? Zambia! They came in to play the way they play without fear and were one of the most fun teams to watch. I loved Sophie’s piece on them and how it was more than Banda, but also, my God Barbra Banda.

SL: Your check’s in the mail, mate.

KM: Not to be mean but just as we had a best player of the tournament, who would you say was the worst? Personally, based on expectation? It’s a toss up between Abby Dahlkemper, Sam Mewis and Christiane Endler. I’ll probably add Steph Houghton to the mix too. Every time I saw any of these players play, they ranged from average to bad, which wasn’t what I expected from them at all.

SL: Every US player has to be up for that one, even those coming into the Olympics plumb in form. Something was seriously wrong with that group. Endler is a fair shout too. We know the Chilean defence isn’t the best but she conceded a lot of what she faced on target. Since we’re on the topic of goalkeepers, Sari van Veendendaal has to be given a dishonourable mention too. Over the last five years or so, she has been regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in Europe for sheer shot-stopping ability but much like the Dutch defence this summer, she was all at see. The type of mistakes she made, you’d never expect to see from her.

AC: Lindsey Horan, the USWNT’s one (1) “Julie Ertz replacement”, lasted all of 45 minutes then seemed to not be able to play in her actual position. She drifted far too wide and left no one in midfield to receive the ball from the backline. Kelley O’Hara and Abby Dahlkemper were also shocking. Sam Mewis looked lost, and Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan didn’t do much at all.

SL: I wanted Christen Press to finally put her friendly form into matches that mattered but that didn’t happen again.

KM: Alright, last one of the roundtable. Which “moment” stood out to you the most? The one thing, apart from the medalists, that’ll stay in your head long after this tournament is done. Stephanie Labbé getting injured, staying in long enough to save a penalty and then being subbed out is something I won’t be forgetting in a hurry.

SL: Like Penny Oleksiak proving her high school teacher wrong, Labbé is determined to say f*** you to all of those who were calling for Kailen Sheridan to start instead of her.

AC: Not sure if this counts as a moment but Banda scoring two consecutive hat tricks was extremely dope and should be among the lasting memories of this tournament.

SL: You’re asking me to remember things I’ve watched multiple times over the last two weeks, I’m not a fan of this (sarcasm). I’ll be pretty basic and talk about debut goals. Zambia’s first against the Netherlands was probably the worst of their seven but when weren’t sure they’d even get a goal, that was such a “we’re here and we deserve to be” moment for them. Gabie Rennie scoring against Australia less than two minutes into her senior debut as well as Wang Yanwen scoring about ten minutes into hers against the Netherlands were both memorable.