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Canada advances to first-ever Olympic final after exacting revenge over U.S.

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Canada will indeed change the colour of the medal.

The Canadian Women's National Team has advanced to the Olympic Final at Tokyo 2020 after a 1-0 victory over the United States. The triumph comes nine years after the Canadians' heart-breaking — and unjust — loss to the U.S. in one of the greatest football games ever played at the same stage of the tournament back at London 2012.

Chelsea product Jessie Fleming claimed the goal from the penalty spot after Deanne Rose won the spot kick while pressing the U.S. backline with a mad dash inside the edge of the box. Stephanie Labbe was brilliant again inside the Canadian goal, making several key saves in a contest that skewed towards the Americans in terms of volume of engineered attack.

Having already knocked down the primary objective outlined by head coach Bev Priestman with an improvement on back-to-back bronze, Canada will officially determine the colour of its medal in its first-ever Olympic final appearance Thursday versus powerhouse Sweden.

Here's what happened versus the Americans:

KASHIMA, JAPAN - AUGUST 02: Players of Team Canada celebrate their side's first goal scored by Jessie Fleming #17 of Team Canada during the Women's Football Semifinal match between USA and Canada at Kashima Stadium on August 02, 2021 in Kashima, Ibaraki, Japan. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)
Jessie Fleming's perfect penalty versus the United States has lifted Canada into the Olympic gold medal final for the first time ever. (Getty)

Not without controversy?

In 2012, a ludicrous decision cost the Canadians dearly in their epic semifinal war versus the United States. In Monday's clash, it was another decision from the referees — this one detected and confirmed by Video Assisted Review — that swung the balance in Canada's favour. 

In a vacuum, it's a harsh decision and one that probably shouldn't decide a game of this magnitude. But the moment wasn't strictly the work of karmic forces, or the laws of nature determined to right a previous wrong. Unlike the controversial decision — or the seldom-if-ever-whistled six-second violation — which awarded the Americans a penalty in 2012, Canada earned the foul in the box. 

Yes, the prospects of scoring were slim-to-none and it wasn't egregious enough to be picked up in real time, but U.S. defender Tierna Davidson committed the lazy foul on the hard-charging Deanne Rose regardless, and the rulebook was appropriately applied.

After all the pressure the Americans applied in the game, a simple service from Labbe, a flick from Beckie, and industrious run from Rose was the difference. 

It's a game of concentration, and the Canadians held theirs throughout while Davidson's slipped at the worst time.

An unselfish decision

It hasn't been a characteristically dominant event for Canadian legend Christine Sinclair. 

The all-time goals leader in international competition added to her haul almost immediately at Tokyo 2020, but has been mostly silent since opening the scoring in the early minutes of the first match versus Japan.

Lacking a decisive moment in the attacking third since that quick strike and coming off a miss from the spot in Canada's quarterfinal win in penalties over Brazil, it would be expected that a player of Sinclair's stature — and with less character — would be desperate to have her moment, to put her stamp on a game versus a forever rival. 

But as one was presented to her through the Rose run into the box, Sinclair took the ball only to present it to her teammate.

We will never truly know how important the decision was to have Fleming take the penalty. However with Sinclair and Janine Beckie suffering misses in the tournament, and likely still impacted emotionally by those failures, the decision to hand the ball off might have been, in a way, the massive contribution Sinclair has been without.

Because it couldn't have been a better penalty from Fleming.

Fleming, too, hasn't quite had the tournament she may have envisioned, but her cool in the moment was magnificent.

Galaxy brain

Depth of squad is one clear difference between Canada and the United States, and in this game that advantage may have worked against the Americans.

U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski's decision to leave Megan Rapinoe, Christen Press, and Carli Lloyd on the bench for the first hour was perplexing before the three American stars completely changed the dynamic following their substitutions. 

Yes, the three of them are each on the wrong side of 30 and beyond their individual primes. In particular for Rapinoe and Lloyd, it's likely that this is their last Olympic tournament. But all three proved to still be world-class in their half hours on the pitch, combining to take and generate virtually every quality look the Americans produced in the game.

It seems in this case the rush to turn over the roster was a detriment to the Americans. It's a luxury the Canadians don't have, and maybe in this case are fortunate to be without.

That one change

Canada's squad is defined by experience, but its most inexperienced player is having a massive impact.

Vanessa Gilles, who has taken the place of veteran Shelina Zadorsky as the only change in a lineup that could be constructed otherwise on seniority alone, was sensational in the match. The ups and downs that defined her quarterfinal insertion were far less extreme, and her strength in the box and composure as the Americans countered was incredibly impressive.

Priestman deserves a ton of credit for turning to Gilles, and trusting in a player with less than 10 international caps.

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