Canada wins Olympic soccer gold in penalty shootout over Sweden

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The colour of the medal is gold!

Julia Grosso's spot kick in a dramatic six-round penalty shootout has lifted the Canadian Women's National Team to the Olympic title at Tokyo 2020. 

Grosso's kick was the decisive moment, but keeper Stephanie Labbe's two stops (and two influenced misses) were absolutely vital for the Canadians, who failed on three consecutive kicks in penalties before emerging victorious.

As it was in the semifinal triumph over the United States, Jessie Fleming scored Canada's regulation goal on a penalty after Christine Sinclair was fouled in the box. It erased a first-half goal from Sweden's star striker, Stina Blackstenius. 

The victory marks Canada's first gold medal in women's football in its first-ever Olympic final. It could see through a fitting conclusion of one of the greatest athletic careers in Canadian history, with Sinclair becoming an Olympic champion in her fourth appearance at the Games.

Canada has claimed Olympic gold in women's football after a dramatic penalty shootout versus Sweden. (Getty)
Canada has claimed Olympic gold in women's football after a dramatic penalty shootout versus Sweden. (Getty)

The perfect sendoff?

It took more than two decades of senior appearances. It took more than 300 games. It included a record 187 international goals. And now Christine Sinclair has the accomplishment fitting of her unparalleled footballing resume.

An Olympic champion, finally, Sinclair, 38, can now leave the sport (or at least Olympic competition) not just as the icon that made the program and its prospects demonstrably better than where she found it, but now without wonder of what could have been. And it seems fitting that the wave of talent she helped inspire — and in this moment exactly, 20-year-old midfielder Julia Grosso — won it for her.

It was not the dominant tournament we have come to expect from Sinclair. She scored once. She missed a crucial penalty. She drew the most critical foul of the gold-medal match. She handed the opportunity to consolidate it off to Fleming, just as she did in the semifinal. She limped around a lot. She needed substitutions.

Those indescribable moments Sinclair has had on the Olympic stage — many of which have dragged Canada to results perhaps that weren't deserved — weren't there this time around. 

But the beauty is that they didn't have to be.

Sinclair helped shape the future with her decades of dominance. And the future just paid her back in full.

What held this together?

This wasn't easy. In fact, it didn't for a moment look dominant. Canada willed this victory, this gold, into existence, using guts, focus, and brilliant individual contributions from a few players, namely keeper Stephanie Labbe. 

The attritive aspect of this tournament is what helped Canada win it, but not before it was almost lost. Sweden was the better team from the jump in the game, but were so, so close to finishing it in the final minutes.

Thankfully, teetering on the edge is comfortable position for Canada. For not a single moment have the Canadians been able to breathe easy, save for perhaps the third game of the preliminary round where head coach Bev Priestman rested her most important players.

Lessons learned through a difficult road through the group stage, in the nail-biting quarterfinal win in penalties versus Brazil, and in the nervy semifinal win over the rival United States conditioned Canada for this Herculean task against the tournament's best team.

And still at times it looked certain that the structure and game plan was to fail, and that it would be impossible to make up the goal conceded in the first half.

But the Canadians did just enough, always. 

Up until the very end.

Labbe's legacy

We will remember Grosso's boot, and Sinclair screaming her name in the celebration. Fleming, too, will be lionized for her cold-blooded spot-taking. However the most powerful force from Canada in this tournament, in this game, and in the golden shootout, was keeper Stephanie Labbe.

Labbe's smiles at her opponents as they settled themselves before their penalties should be the lasting image of this game and of this tournament. Psychological impact aside, her unflinching confidence in those moments was the difference for Canada, which was otherwise wilting under the pressure of the moment.

It was such a struggle for Canada that despite making two stops from six, Labbe required a shot off the post and a skied attempt at the championship from Sweden's captain, Caroline Seger, in order to buy enough time for Canada to deposit the necessary requirement on goals.

Hardly an isolated incident, Labbe was simply tremendous throughout the entire tournament. She battled injuries, held firm through a barrage of shots — and knocks — from opponents dominating the run of play throughout the elimination round, and emerged victorious from two penalty shootout versus world-class opponents.

There are plenty of candidates for the closing flag bearer, and Labbe is among them. 

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