The end of a dream.
There were tears at the end, yet no regrets. Canada’s Women’s Team gave everything they had. They left everything out on the Parc des Princes pitch. Effort was total, but there wasn’t enough guile and firepower when it was needed.
You can talk about who should’ve taken the penalty, you can argue until you’re blue in the face if it was even the correct decision, but you can’t debate the fact that Canada, with a decent amount of possession, were not creative enough and lacked firepower up front. Christine Sinclair has been a magnificent role model and player for this team, indeed for the whole soccer program in this country, but the 2019 World Cup confirms her greatest days are in the past.
Allied to energetic performances by Ashley Lawrence and Sophie Schmidt, and the imperiousness of Kadeisha Buchanan in defence, Canada’s most dangerous player was Nichelle Prince.
Her work on the right side during the early proceedings was encouraging, as she combined with Lawrence, although her final ball was found wanting. It may have been helped by an extra body or two in the box, as often Sinclair was the only target to hit.
A switch to the left side in the latter part of the opening half reduced her menace, but although remaining Canada’s best chance of unsettling the robust Swedish backline, her contribution diminished before being replaced in the 64th minute.
Prince’s withdrawal was possibly the result of an injury she had struggled to completely overcome going into the contest, otherwise Heiner-Moller may have preferred to remove Janine Beckie, not having one of her better nights, when introducing Adriana Leon.
Such a move could’ve altered the course of history, for two minutes later it was the unfortunate Beckie, entrusted with the VAR-influenced penalty award, who failed to beat Lindahl in the Swedish goal. Lindahl dived forcefully to her right to parry the decently struck spot-kick away.
The penalty was an unexpected lifeline for the Canadians, who rarely looked like breaching the solid, yellow Swedish wall of defiance.
Canada had begun the game on the front foot, eventually enjoying 69% first-half possession without testing the Swedish goalkeeper. Indeed there were no shots on target from either side and the crowd embarked on a Mexican Wave on 33 mins, never a sign that things are all that interesting on the pitch.
Sweden’s breakthrough came on 55 mins however, after Canada had lost possession in their opponents’ half. The ball was worked to Kosovare Asllani advancing on the left. She held possession just long enough for Blackstenius to peel away from Zadorsky attempting to cover the middle, before playing an inviting ball between goalkeeper and attacker. Blackstenius got there fractionally ahead of both Labbe and Zadorsky, clipping the ball over the Canadian keeper and into the goal.
It was the evening’s decisive moment.
Swedish sides of either gender have long played robust, effective football, and this group look confident of their game management, once in front. They defended stoutly and skilfully and became more threatening on the break as the Canadians chased the game, Asllani, Blackstenius and Jakobsson on the right proving a handful with the extra space afforded.
Canadian heads or industry did not go down, they simply lacked the ingenuity to get back into game. Apart from that golden opportunity from the penalty-spot, there wasn’t another chance of note, despite increasing pressure right to the end of 9 minutes added time.
Sweden dealt comprehensively with anything thrown their way, and indeed would have had a penalty themselves in the 81st minute after Buchanan’s desperate tackle on Blackstenius resulted in a foul. VAR intervened again however, confirming Jakobsson offside in the build-up to the incident.
Sweden go on now to meet Germany in Rennes in Saturday’s quarter-final. Canada return home and we wonder if it’s the last we’ll see of that most talismanic of players, Christine Sinclair, in a red shirt on the world’s ultimate stage.
Sweden - Lindahl - Glas, Fischer, Ericsson - Rubensson (Bjorn, 79), Asllani, Seger - Jakobsson, Blackstenius (Anvegard, 90+4), Rolfo (Hurtig, 89).
Canada - Labbe - Lawrence, Buchanan, Zadorsky, Chapman (Riviere, 84) - Prince (Leon, 64), Scott, Schmidt, Beckie (Quinn, 84) - Fleming, Sinclair.
Referee - Kate Jacewicz (Australia)
Asst Ref - Kathryn Nesbitt (USA)
Asst Ref - Felisha Mariscal (USA)
4th Official - Sandra Braz (Portugal)
VAR - Jose Maria Sanchez (Spain)