Soccer·Preview

Everything you need to know before Canada faces Sweden for Olympic gold in women's soccer

Sweden will enter Friday's gold-medal game against Canada as the slight favourite, but the Canadian team, coached by Bev Priestman, has gone from strength to strength throughout the tournament, capped off by its historic win against the U.S. in the semifinals.

Can the Canadians cap off their magical run in Tokyo by winning it all?

United States goalkeeper Adrianna Franch fails to stop a penalty from Canada's Jessie Fleming, right. The London, Ont., native's goal was the only one in the Olympic women's semifinal Monday at Kashima Stadium in Japan. Canada will face Sweden in the gold-medal game Friday. (Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

Having won back-to-back bronze medals, the Canadian women's soccer team has successfully changed the colour of the medal they will receive at the Tokyo Olympics. Now all that's left is to determine if it'll be gold or silver.

After an epic win over the United States, Canada will go for gold on Friday when it meets Sweden in the tournament final at Tokyo's National Stadium.

Sweden will be the slight favourite as the No. 5 team in the current FIFA world rankings, three ahead of Canada. But the Canadian team, coached by Bev Priestman, has gone from strength to strength throughout the tournament, capped off by its historic win in the semifinals that ended a 20-year winless streak against the Americans.

By reaching Friday's final, Canada became just the third nation to win medals at three successive women's team tournaments at the Olympics (2012 to 2021), following in the footsteps of the U.S. (1996 to 2012) and Germany (2000 to 2008). Can they cap off their magical run in Tokyo by winning it all?

Here's what you need to know about Friday's gold-medal game, which will be played at 9 p.m. local time (Friday at 8 a.m. ET in Canada).

WATCH | Canadian women's soccer team advances to Olympic final: 

A redemption story 9 years in the making, Canada to play for Olympic women's soccer gold

2 months ago
1:52
The Canadian women's national team defeated the United States for the first time in 20 years, pushing their way through the Olympic semifinals and into the gold-medal match. 1:52

How did Canada get to the final?

Canada's path was a bit more laboured than Sweden's, but the Reds have a lot of momentum after upsetting the U.S. in the semifinals courtesy Jessie Fleming's penalty kick in the 74th minute.

In the previous round, Canada was in a dogfight against Brazil, playing to a 0-0 draw after 120 minutes before emerging victorious in a penalty shootout in which Stephanie Labbé made two big saves.

The Canadians booked their spot in the knockout round on the strength of a 1-0-2 record to finish second in Group E, earning 1-1 draws against Japan and Great Britain, and beating Chile 2-1 thanks to a brace from Janine Beckie.

WATCH | A redemption story 9 years in the making: 

Jessie Fleming's penalty lifts Canada over U.S. in women's soccer semifinal

2 months ago
1:28
Midfielder Jessie Fleming scores on a penalty in the seventy-fifth minute as Canada defeats U.S. 1-0 and advances to the women's soccer gold medal match. 1:28

Canadian player to watch: Christine Sinclair

Who else could it be?

The iconic Canadian captain has had a quiet tournament (by her high standards) with just one goal in four appearances and missed a penalty in the shootout win over Brazil in the quarter-finals.

But her diligent work off the ball as the first line of defence helped Canada keep back-to-back clean sheets, while also providing valuable leadership in the epic win over the U.S.

Sinclair has a history of coming up big in big moments, so this gold-medal game was tailor-made for the veteran Canadian forward.

(CBC)

How did Sweden get to the final?

Sweden signalled its intent at Tokyo 2020 right from the start by dismantling the U.S., the No. 1 ranked team in the world, 3-0 in their opening match. 

They followed that up with convincing victories over Australia and New Zealand to finish first in Group G.

The Swedes kept it going with an impressive 3-1 win over host Japan in the quarter-finals, but a rematch with Australia in the semifinals proved tougher than their group stage contest.

Fridolina Rolfö scored in the 46th minute, with the Swedes hanging on for dear life in a 1-0 win after Australia poured on the pressure for the rest of the second half.

Swedish player to watch: Stina Blackstenius

The 25-year-old striker has a team-high four goals in the tournament and set up Rolfö's game-winner against Australia.

The Canadians will have nightmares about facing Blackstenius, as it was her goal that was the difference in the match that knocked Canada out of the 2019 FIFA World Cup.

Canadian scouting report

Canada has made it to the gold medal game largely on the strength of its defence, having recorded back-to-back shutout wins over Brazil and the U.S. — nations that outrank them — in their quarter-finals and semifinals.

Goalkeeper Labbé has routinely put her body on the line, making important saves at critical times. A defence anchored by centre backs Kadeisha Buchanan and Vanessa Gilles (who replaced Shelina Zadorsky as a starter) has given away very little during the knockout stage.

Goals have been hard to come by for Canada — only once have they scored multiple goals in a game, and they've struggled to create chances at times. Notably, Sinclair hasn't found the back of the net since scoring in the Reds' opening 1-1 draw vs. Japan.

If Canada is to pull off another upset Friday, the defence will have to continue to be at its best, and the attackers need to find a way to unbalance Sweden's back line and be clinical in front of goal.

WATCH | Jessie Fleming scores on penalty kick to lift Canada: 

Jessie Fleming's approach to penalty shot: 'Just breathe, put it in the right spot'

2 months ago
1:14
The 23-year-old Canadian soccer player discusses her approach to the game-winning penalty kick she converted in Canada's 1-0 win over the United States. 1:14

Projected starting lineup for Canada

Goalkeeper: Stephanie Labbé

Defenders: Allysha Chapman, Kadeisha Buchanan, Vanessa Gilles, Ashley Lawrence

Midfielders: Jessie Fleming, Desiree Scott, Quinn

Forwards: Christine Sinclair, Janine Beckie, Nichelle Prince

Swedish scouting report

Simply put, Sweden has been the best team here, cruising through the group stage and earning a pair of impressive wins in the knockout round to go a perfect 5-0-0.

Led by star striker Blackstenius, the Swedes boast the second-best attack of the tournament with 13 goals, and have conceded just three times, with three clean sheets to their credit.

Canada has never trailed in Tokyo, so the key for Sweden will be to put pressure on the defence right from kickoff.

If the Swedes can take an early lead and force Canada to chase the game and come from behind, it could be a long day for a Canadian team that's been shy about taking shots and has instead looked to create the perfect scoring opportunity.

Canada vs. Sweden: The rivalry

The Canada-Sweden rivalry hasn't been nearly as lopsided as Canada vs. the U.S., but it still doesn't make pleasant reading for the Canadians.

Canada has suffered 14 losses (with just five wins) in 23 all-time matches against Sweden dating back to their first meeting on July 5, 1987 in Minnesota.

The Swedes are unbeaten in their last three matches (with two wins) vs. Canada, with the Canadians' previous win coming on Apr. 6, 2017, in a 1-0 decision in an international friendly in Trelleborg, Sweden. 

Sweden came out on top over Canada in their last encounter, earning a 1-0 victory in the round of 16 at the 2019 FIFA World Cup in France.

Blackstenius opened the scoring off a setup from Kosovare Asllani to give Sweden a 1-0 lead in the 55th minute after it controlled much of the game up until that point.

Fourteen minutes later, Asllani was called for a hand ball inside her 18-yard box and Canada was awarded a penalty. But instead of Christine Sinclair, it was Beckie who took the penalty, only to see it saved by goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl.

Canada couldn't recover and exited the tournament.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Molinaro is one of the leading soccer journalists in Canada, having covered the game for over 20 years for a number of media outlets, including CBC Sports, Sportsnet and Sun Media. During his time at CBC Sports, John travelled to South Africa to cover the 2010 FIFA World Cup for CBCSports.ca. He is currently the editor-in-chief of TFC Republic, a website dedicated to in-depth coverage of the Canadian game.

With files from CBC Sports' Kelly VanderBeek

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