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Fleming scores from penalty spot as Canada edges US 1-0 in soccer semi at Tokyo Games

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KASHIMA-SHI, Japan — Jessie Fleming scored on a penalty kick in the 74th minute to help the Canadian women's soccer team to a 1-0 semifinal victory over the United States on Monday at the Tokyo Games.

American defender Tierna Davidson was called for a foul after her left foot hit Deanna Rose's leg just inside the penalty area as they chased a loose ball. 

Ukrainian referee Kateryna Monzul pointed to the penalty spot after a VAR review. American goalkeeper Adrianna Franch dived to the correct side but couldn't get a piece of Fleming's powerful right-footed shot.

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"I took a deep breath and did what I’ve done before," Fleming said.

Canada will next play the winner of the other semifinal between fifth-ranked Sweden and No. 9 Australia. That game was scheduled for later Monday at Yokohama Stadium. 

The gold-medal game was set for Friday at the Olympic Stadium, a day after the bronze-medal game at Kashima.

"I'm clear that winners win and we’re going into this final to absolutely get a gold medal," Canada coach Bev Priestman said.

Canadian captain Christine Sinclair had a hat trick in the last Olympic meeting between Canada and the U.S. in 2012, a memorable 4-3 win for the Americans in extra time at Old Trafford.

Canada would go on to win bronze that year and would repeat that third-place result four years later at the Rio Games.

"We’ve played the U.S. so many times but this time around we came into this tournament with the mindset of changing the colour of the medal. And we showed that," Canadian defender/midfielder Ashley Lawrence said. "I’m just super proud of the team."

The American side, wearing white shirts and blue shorts, was aggressive from the start Monday at Ibaraki Kashima Stadium but couldn't test goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé in the early going. 

Canada, sporting all-red kit, took some time to settle in on a hot, humid evening. About 15 minutes into the game, the Canadians started to press more often and generated some chances.

American goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher had to leave the game after injuring her knee while attempting to clear a cross by Fleming. Naeher landed awkwardly after brushing teammate Julie Ertz as the ball sailed through the goalmouth.

Naeher stayed in the game for a few minutes but signalled she'd have to come out after attempting a kick with her right leg. She was replaced by Franch in the 30th minute.

The Americans seemed determined to create by pressuring the Canadian back line and forcing defenders to scramble. The Canadians, meanwhile, had more control of the midfield but struggled deeper in the zone.

An opening half that was rather sloppy at times came to a close with neither team registering a shot on target. Teammates on the sideline bellowing words of encouragement mixed with artificial crowd noise to provide a soundtrack in the virtually empty stadium.

Both teams made substitutions in the 60th minute. 

Veteran Megan Rapinoe came on for the U.S. along with Carli Lloyd and Christen Press. Priestman replaced Quinn and Nichelle Prince with Julia Grosso and Rose.

Lloyd tested Labbé with the first decent chance of the game in the 65th minute. Her shot from just inside the area forced Labbe to leap in the air and tip the ball over the bar.

Labbé was tested again moments later when an Ertz header off a corner kick forced the netminder to make another good save. Lloyd hit the crossbar late in regulation.

Canada improved its all-time record to 4-51-7 in head-to-head meetings with the U.S. going back to 1986. Canada's last victory over the Americans was a 3-0 decision at the Algarve Cup in March 2001.

The Americans, who won the 2019 World Cup in France, have won gold at four of the last six Summer Olympics. The U.S. lost to Sweden in the quarterfinals at the Rio Games. 

Germany, the Olympic champion in 2016, did not qualify for Tokyo.

Canada entered play on an eight-match unbeaten streak, covering four friendlies and four games in Tokyo (3-0-5 with five clean sheets).

Labbé has shone at these Games, particularly in Canada's quarterfinal victory over Brazil. Neither team scored in regulation or extra time but Labbé closed with back-to-back saves to help Canada win 4-3 on penalty kicks.

The U.S. also needed penalties to beat the Netherlands in the quarterfinals. The top-ranked Americans and eighth-ranked Canadians both finished second in their respective pools in group play.

All 22 players on Canada’s roster (including four alternates) have dressed at some point during the competition. Defender Jayde Riviere was suspended for the semifinal due to yellow card accumulation.

Canada dropped a 1-0 decision to the U.S. when the teams last met at the SheBelieves Cup in February. This was the 303rd career cap for Sinclair, who leads all international soccer players with 187 career goals. 

The Canadian women qualified for Tokyo by finishing runner-up to the U.S. at last year's CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualifying Championship.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 2, 2021. 

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press

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