The gold medal in women's soccer returned to Concacaf in Yokohama.
But to Canada, not the USA.
The Canadians, who upset the USA, 1-0, in the semifinals, stunned favored Sweden with a 3-2 shootout victory after they trailed 2-1 in the fifth round of the penalty kicks.
Canada earned bronze in 2012 and 2016, but no one expected it would challenge for gold in Japan. Not with a young team and a new coach in 35-year-old Englishwoman Beverly Priestman, who was hired in the middle of the pandemic and didn't get to coach Canada in a match until six months ago.
The Swedes, winners of five straight games, beginning with a 3-0 win over the USA, took the lead on a goal by Stina Blackstenius in the 34th minute and dominated the match. But Canada got a break when it equalized in the 67th minute on a penalty kick by Jessie Fleming, whose penalty kick was the difference against the USA in the semifinals. The penalty was awarded after VAR confirmed a foul by Sweden Amanda Ilestedt on Canada star Christine Sinclair.
Sweden had a 24-14 edge in shots, but the match ended 1-1 after 120 minutes. Just three of the first nine shooters converted their attempts in the shootout. Sweden led 2-1 and had a chance to win, but 36-year-old Caroline Seger put her shot over the crossbar.
Deanne Rose, who will join English club Reading this fall after having finished her college career at Florida,then evened the score at 2-2 after five rounds, and Julia Grosso, a rising senior at Texas, scored the winning goal after keeper Stephanie Labbe dove to her left to stop Jonna Andersson.
Labbe made two saves in the shootout against Sweden, matching her performance against Brazil in the quarterfinals, where Canada came back to win 4-3 in the shootout after their match ended 0-0.
“There’s no pressure on me,” said the 34-year-old Labbe, who plays in Sweden for Rosengard after helping the North Carolina Courage win the 2019 NWSL title. “I’m not supposed to make saves. And if I can make a save, it’s great."
Among Labbe's teammates at Rosengard is Seger, who name in Swedish is "victory."
“It was a perfect story,” said Sweden coach Peter Gerhardsson after his team settled for silver at the second straight Olympics. “But football isn’t a fairy tale. It’s reality. And reality is brutal.”
Labbe also played with Seger in the last season of WPS on the 2011 champion Western New York Flash, a team also included Brazilian Marta, Alex Morgan and Sinclair.
“I knew she was an icon in Swedish football," said Labbe, "but I’ve come to realize what an amazing leader and incredible person she is. I see the power she has on those around her and how she can inspire people."
Seger's roommate in 2011 was Sinclair.
“This will hurt her, and it will hurt for a long time,” said Sinclair, who won gold at the age of 38, more than 21 years after she made her international debut. “But she can hold her head high because she’s an absolute legend.”