Tokyo 2020 Olympics
Final Score: United States 0-1 Canada
Goalscorers: Fleming (75′)
Match in a minute or less
Canada booked their spot in the gold medal match at Tokyo 2020 on Monday, as a Jessie Fleming penalty with 15 minutes left proved to be the difference against their rivals from the United States.
Their opponents pushed and pushed for a winner, and then an equalizer after Fleming’s strike, but Canada held them off all night and came out deserved winners, their first win over the Americans since 2001, and guaranteeing them a spot on the podium at a third-consecutive Olympics.
Bev Priestman named an unchanged starting lineup from Canada’s last match, while the United States also lined up in a 4-3-3 formation, with the midfield trio of Julie Ertz, Lindsey Horan and Rose Lavelle the standout part of the pitch for the Americans.
The first half was uneventful for the most part, apart from the two sides trading opportunities from corners. The other notable moment from the first half was a lengthy stoppage as American goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher suffered a knee injury and received treatment. She tried to stay in the game, but was replaced by Adrianna Franch a few minutes later.
The United States made a triple substitution early in the second half, bringing on a terrifying trio of Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe and Christen Press, and with that came an increase in scoring chances. The Americans were getting the ball on goal frequently, but Stephanie Labbé was stopping everything that came her way, as she has done for most of this tournament.
With about 15 minutes to go, and the States looking like they were on the front foot, Canada were awarded a penalty. Deanne Rose was kicked in the box by Tierna Davidson, and after a quick check with VAR, the referee pointed to the spot.
Jessie Fleming stepped up to take it, and fired it past a diving Franch, scoring what is arguably the most important goal in the national team’s history, in their most important win. The celebration that followed — an emphatic knee slide toward the Canadian bench — showed how much it meant to both Fleming and the team as a whole.
Canada’s backline, led by another sensational performance from Vanessa Gilles, held off waves of attacks from the opposition as they pushed for a goal. There were four minutes of stoppage time after the remaining 15 minutes, but the Canadians shut it down and held on for the victory.
A first win over the United States since 2001. A first Olympic semifinal win at the third time of asking. Redemption for the London 2012 semifinal against this same American side. Canada delivered when it mattered most and will play for gold as a result — guaranteed to at least change the colour of the medal as they set out to do before the tournament began.
Canada press forced turnovers by defending from the front
From start to finish, Canada’s defensive press proved to be successful. The front three of Janine Beckie, Nichelle Prince and Christine Sinclair put in a shift on both sides of the ball, forcing their opponents to make mistakes and turnover the ball, which created goalscoring opportunities for Canada.
While they didn’t convert any of them, the chances Canada were creating were a positive reward for their hard work, and on a different day may have resulted in this match being won by a larger margin.
The American backline — a strong one featuring Tierna Davidson, Becky Sauerbrunn, Crystal Dunn and Kelley O’Hara — doesn’t normally give up a lot of the ball like that, but Canada’s work rate saw them nearly take advantage of some intense pressure.
If Canada press like that in the final, they’ll have a real shot at winning the gold medal.
United States lose goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher early
After being one of the best players for the United States in their quarterfinal win over Netherlands, and the tournament as a whole, goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher was forced to leave this match after 30 minutes after picking up a knee injury.
Challenging for the ball in the air, Naeher landed awkwardly and her knee twisted in a direction it shouldn’t. She was on the ground for several minutes, and it looked as though she’d have to come off, but after receiving treatment from the American doctors, opted to stay in the game.
She’d only last a few more minutes before kicking the ball and instantly waving to the bench for Adrianna Franch to replace her.
Losing Naeher is a problem for the United States, as the injury looked like one that will keep her out of their bronze medal match, but Franch is a more-than-capable replacement and hardly put a foot wrong in her hour of work.
“Big players step up in big moments”, and Canada sure did
Ahead of this match, Bev Priestman was confident that her team could pick up a result. After the win over Brazil she said that “big players step up in big moments,” and did they ever in this match.
Vanessa Gilles, in just her ninth appearance for Canada, was like a magnet to the ball, turning away everything in sight, as she’s done all tournament long, and against some of the best attackers in the world. When the United States brought on the world-class group of Rapinoe, Lloyd and Press — Gilles kicked it up another gear.
Behind Gilles, Stephanie Labbé was rock-solid, as we’ve come to expect in this tournament. She made numerous saves in the second half as the Americans were pushing for an elusive goal that would never come. Labbé has been one of Canada’s best performers over the past few weeks, and if not for her heroics in the quarterfinal against Brazil, they might not have even played this game.
Jessie Fleming, of course, stepped up when it mattered most. Tasked with taking a penalty that would either keep it at a very nervy 0-0, or potentially send Canada to the gold medal match, Fleming stepped up and confidently fired home her penalty.
The composure she showed in that moment to take the ball from Christine Sinclair and make good use of it is one of the most defining moments this national team has ever experienced.
CanPL.ca Player of the Match
Vanessa Gilles, Canada
There were several players shortlisted for this, but Vanessa Gilles was the best of the bunch. Putting in a strong defensive performance against the reigning World Cup champions is no small task, and Gilles rose to the occasion.
Canada have guaranteed themselves a medal, and will play in the gold medal match on Friday (Japan time) against the winner of Australia vs Sweden, which will take place later on Monday. The gold medal match will kick off at 11am local time on Friday, 10 pm EST on Thursday night.
The United States will play for bronze, against the loser of Australia vs Sweden, at 4am EST on August 5th.