You can’t say that Canada have set this Olympic tournament alight but when it come down to it, they weathered every storm and had enough composure to make it count when it was most needed. From the penalty spot.
That composure proved key against Brazil, the USWNT and now Sweden as the Canadians accomplished what many thought they would not be able to do; win a Gold medal. The Swedes were the talk of the tournament and seemed destined to take their Olympic journey one step closer with a Gold medal this time. However, just like five years ago, they couldn’t do it and ended up with another Silver medal.
Stina Blackstenius, who has had a terrific tournament, started things off well for Sweden. After a few probing attacks, Kosovare Asllani drive forward in the 34th minute an dpicked out Blackstenius. Her shot came off Vanessa Gilles and evaded Labbé’s attempt to stop it, giving Sweden the lead their play had deserved. That could have been it for Canada but this version of the team has no quit in it. They regrouped during half time and looked to redirect the course of this game.
The second half showed a swing in momentum as Canada pushed forward more than they had in the first half. That attacking emphasis was even more pronounced due to the substitutes that had been introduced at half time for them and a small tactical chance in midfield. This move by Bev Priestman proved to be a masterstroke as in the 65th minute, Christine Sinclair was fouled by Amanda Ilestedt and VAR awarded Canada a penalty.
Just as she had done two days ago, Sinclair picked up the ball and handed it to Jessie Fleming. Fleming stepped up to the spot and sent Hedvig Lindahl the wrong way, bringing Canada level. It stayed that way from then on until penalties despite the chances Sweden had to put away the game during extra time.
When that final whistle blew, sending the teams to the lottery that is the penalty shootout, Canada looked confident while Sweden looked like they were losing confidence in the outcome of this game. Heavy legs, heavy minds and a lack of composure showed not only then but throughout the penalties. Kosovare Asllani was the first taker and her effort came off the post. That was when you could truly feel that this might not be Sweden’s day but Canada’s instead.
Stephanie Labbé made sure of that. With saves against Anna Anvegård and Joanna Andersson, the Canadian goalkeeper put Canada on the brink of a Gold medal in sudden death. Julia Grosso may have scored the decisive penalty but Labbé had put in a tournament winning performance and helped herself and her country to their first ever Gold medal.
Many others will write about Sinclair’s prescene in the women’s game, or Jessie Fleming coming off age on one of the biggest stagest in the world, or of Ashley Lawrence and her brilliant summer both with club and country, but that Gold medal would not be in Canadian hands if it hadn’t been for Stephanie Labbé. She showed up when needed time and time again for Canada and held her nerve during what was her biggest ever moment to produce. This will probably be her last Olympic tournament but what a way to end it. A Gold medal in hand and the gratefulness of a country in front of her.