by Ciara McCormack
Canada-Sweden had all the makings of an exciting affair as the two teams clashed in Canadian Head Coach John Herdman’s hometown in Newcastle, at historic St. James Park. With defenders Emily Zurrer and Robyn Gayle declared unfit for the duration of the tournament, alternates Melanie Booth and Marie-Eve Nault were inserted into the Canadian roster, with the latter stepping right into the starting line-up in her Olympic debut. Due to Gayle’s injury, Lauren Sesselmann, who has had an outstanding tournament so far at left back, was Herdman’s choice to place next to Carmelina Moscato at center back, as Nault reclaimed the left back spot that she held in two of Canada’s games at the 2011 World Cup.
Herdman made two other changes to his starting lineup from Canada’s last match against South Africa, as Erin McLeod went back into the net replacing Karina Leblanc who was not tested much against the African debutantes. In Herdman’s other change Kaylyn Kyle was pulled from midfield, in order to insert striker Jonelle Filigno, who looked dangerous as a substitute in her first Olympic appearance against South Africa. On the Swedish side, coach Thomas Dennerby went for a more offensive lineup for the Swede’s final group game, as Kosovare Asllani, who made an impact as a substitute against the Japanese, replaced Johanna Almgren as a starter, captain Nilla Fischer returned from injury to replace Lisa Dahlkvist in the midfield. In his final change, Dennerby replaced Annica Svensson with Lina Nilsson on the wing.
While Canada looked to have the better of the play in the opening minutes, including a big chance for forward Melissa Tancredi in the box in the seventh minute, it was Sweden who struck first. Nilsson made good of her start, sending in a great cross from the right that Marie Hammarstrom finished past McLeod, sending the Scandinavians into a 1-0 lead in the 14th minute of the match. Before the Canadians had a chance to regroup, Hammarstrom again made her presence in the match felt, as she made a great run down the left. McLeod showed her penchant for at times being too eager on crosses, and only getting her fingertips to the ball, Sofia Jakobsson had an easy finish into goal that sent the Swedes into a shock lead, based on the run of play.
The Canadians stayed collected, and for those observing the game, it seemed like it would only be a matter of time before they would be rewarded with a goal. And the goal came just minutes before the end of the half, as Rhian Wilkinson showed a delightful bit of skill, making a run down the right, combining with Christine Sinclair to send a beautiful swerving cross into the box. Tancredi would not let the opportunity by her, and through sheer will sent the ball off her body into the back of the net, cutting the score to 2-1 and revitalizing the Canadian side going into the half.
The Canadians came out in the second half doing a great job keeping their defensive shape, winning the ball high up the field, and not letting the Swedes create much danger. Sweden’s issues resembled those of the Canadian side in the first 2 games, where Lotta Schelin seemed to be isolated with little help, and a lack of cohesion between the Swedish midfield and attack left little to be desired in the way of many Swedish chances. The two biggest chances Sweden had in the second half came not surprisingly, via their top striker Schelin. One chance came off the foot of goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl who almost sent Schelin into the clear off of her punt in the 58th minute. Schelin was guarded closely by center back Carmelina Moscato, who did a wonderful job for the Canadians throughout the game, both in distribution and organization. Despite Schelin’s pleas for a foul just outside the box on the play, the referee waived play on. The Swedes had a chance to increase the scoreline as Schelin did a great job of freeing up space on the left side in the 80th minute, laying a ball into Almgren, who finished just wide. Her miss set up the heroics of Tancredi four minutes later, who scored her fourth of Canada’s six goals at the Olympics. Tancredi asserted her immense ability finishing crosses, as she dove to head a great cross from Sinclair, and in doing so, gave the Canadians a much deserved tie.
With Japan’s surprise scoreless draw against the South Africans, Sweden tops the group. The tie was enough to send Canada through to the quarterfinals as one of the top third place finishers.