Tokyo 2020: Olympic glory worth its wait in gold for Canada

The champions and runners-up Sweden are hitting the peak of their powers but the USA and Australia need an injection of youth to breathe new life into their bids for major honours, writes Martin Whiteley.

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Canada fulfilled their promise to “change the colour” of their previous medals after beating Sweden 3-2 in a dramatic penalty shootout to claim Olympic gold.

After claiming successive bronze medals in London and Rio, the mantra had been a driving force for the Canucks who earned their first major tournament title in women’s football.

The match finished 1-1 with Stina Blackstenius opening the scoring for the Swedes in the 34th minute before Jessie Fleming struck a second-half equaliser from the penalty spot.

Julia Grosso then stepped up with the decisive penalty in the shootout to resign Sweden to back-to-back silver medals.

Under new coach Bev Priestman, the North American side have the foundations in place to compete for the top honours in the game.

Like Sweden, most of the Canada squad are just approaching their peak years. Although they will eventually have to replace the all-time international leading scorer Christine Sinclair, 38, there are still many qualities for them to fall back on.

A defence that is anchored superbly by Kadeisha Buchanan and Ashley Lawrence is a solid foundation to build from. A batch of forwards that includes Janine Beckie, Nichelle Prince, and Jordyn Huitema will hopefully provide the ammunition at the other end of the pitch.

While Sweden coach Peter Gerhardsson has made his team more entertaining in recent times. The trio of Sofia Jakobsson, Kosovare Asllani, and Fridolina Rolfo all provide support in attack for Blackstenius, and full-back Hanna Glas is also encouraged to venture forward when possible.   

Only Caroline Seger and goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl are over 35 in the squad, so this Sweden team has the potential to be in the mix at other major tournaments — starting with next year’s Euros in England.

Meanwhile, next year’s Concacaf Women’s Championship will give bronze medallists USA a chance to add new faces to their squad for a tournament that they are looking to win for a third consecutive time.

The narrow 4-3 victory over Australia in Japan is an admirable achievement but, for a team accustomed to claiming the top prizes, they committed one of the cardinal sins for tournament football. 

Not integrating enough new blood and relying on a very experienced attacking line-up was probably not the way to overcome the rigours that would be faced at this Olympics. 

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Lloyd and Tobin Heath were taking part in their fourth Games, while it was Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan’s third. Aside from Lynn Williams, their forwards were all born in the 1980s.

Lyon midfielder Catarina Macario, 21, was only used sparingly throughout the competition and that left the veteran USA players to rack up the majority of playing minutes. Many of them were left frustrated not only by their own contributions but numerous offside flags too.

However, exciting young forwards Sophia Smith and Mallory Pugh — who are both in their early 20s — could breathe new life into the defending champions’ hopes of adding to their 2014 and 2018 Concacaf Women’s Championship titles. In the backline, 2021 NWSL number one draft pick, Emily Fox, of Racing Louisville FC, should also become a familiar face in the future for the side currently top in the FIFA rankings.

Australia may have missed out on a medal, but the future is bright for them too with a couple of rising stars making their mark this Olympics. 

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Behind the world-class talent that is captain Sam Kerr, the Matildas have previously been found wanting. The Chelsea star again showed her worth as she became her country’s record goalscorer with her 48th goal for the national team in the defeat to the USA and finished on six goals for the tournament — second only to top scorer Vivianne Miedema of the Netherlands on 10.

With a great many of their squads plying their trade in the NWSL or in the major European leagues, Australia have been tipped as the “dark horses” at past competitions but failed to be in the mix at the end.

Now youngsters like Ellie Carpenter and Mary Fowler have shown the qualities they possess on the big stage and that can only be good news for Australia when they co-host the World Cup in two years’ time.

Follow Martin on Twitter at @673martin

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