Canada celebrates its first gold in Olympic women’s soccer. (Jack Gruber-USA TODAY Sports)
Canada ascended to the top of women’s soccer, capturing its first Olympic gold medal Friday.
The bronze medal winners at the previous two Summer Games, Canadians defeated Sweden in a penalty kicks, 3-2, at Yokohama Stadium in Yokohama, Japan.
Canadian goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé denied Jonna Andersson’s attempt and then Julia Grosso converted the winner.
“We wanted to create a moment in Canadian history that can change the game forever,” Canada head coach Bev Priestman said. “We knew that we were going to get Gold and we were going to do anything in our power to make Canada proud and the players absolutely did that. It went right to the very end, but when this group faces adversity, they step up.”
Added Grosso: “This is a surreal feeling. I’m so proud of this team. We worked so hard day in and day out. It’s the best feeling in the world and I’ve never felt like that in my whole life. It’s something that I will remember forever.”
The Canadians scored on three of their six penalty kicks while Sweden converted only twice. Labbe made two saves while Jessie Fleming, Deanne Rose and Julia Grosso scored for Canada.
Labbe became the first Canadian goalkeeper twice to make two saves on penalty kicks in the same competition, performing her heroics in the quarterfinals against Brazil.
“This team has worked so hard for this, but we set our minds to it,” Labbe said. “The past two years have been incredibly challenging for so many people around the world. This is just a big props to all the hard work that this team has put in behind the scenes on those hard days when you don’t want to get up or you don’t want to get that workout in.”
The North American side was forced to overcome a 1-0 deficit when Sweden’s Stina Blackstenius opened the scoring in the 34th minute. Fleming, however, equalized from the penalty spot in the 67th minute.
The Canadians thought they should have been awarded a penalty kick in the 67th minute when captain Christine Sinclair was taken down in the area.
After a VAR review, the Maple Leafs were awarded a penalty and Fleming converted a penalty for the second consecutive match. She did against the United States in the semifinals.
“I’m so proud of this team because we had a goal to change the color of the medal and we landed on the top of the podium,” Sinclair said. “We didn’t make it easy on ourselves, but we fought and clawed and scratched our way to the top. It’s an honor to be a part of this group.
“To be a part of this group now standing on the top of the podium honestly I never thought I’d be part of that group. I thought that Canada was capable of it at some point, but it happened fast. We won three Olympic medals after John [Herdman] came in and changed everything for us. He changed the trajectory of the program and I think a lot is owed to him.”
Canada, which defeated the USA in the semifinals, had finished third at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.