The women’s soccer competition at Rio 2016 is coming to a close, with today’s pair of games determining who will take home the gold, silver, and bronze medals. The final will see Germany - who were on most lists of potential finalists, if not the outright favorite to win gold - take on a Sweden side that has pulled off two straight upsets, knocking out both the heavy favorites (the United States) and the host (Brazil). Though neither team has a particularly impressive record in the tournament - both were 1-1-1 in the group stage - they’re both on the verge of a first-ever Olympic gold.
For Germany, it’s been a strange tournament. Taking 7 or 9 points from Group F seemed like a fair expectation for one of the world’s elite sides, and they started down the right path by hammering Zimbabwe 6-1 in their first outing. However, Australia caught them by surprise, and Germany had to come from 2-0 down to get a draw with the Matildas. It seemed like order had been restored early against Canada, as the tournament’s top scorer Melanie Behringer put the Germans ahead, but Melissa Tancredi struck twice to give the Canadians a surprise win. Germany was reduced to scoreboard watching, as Australia - up 6-1 on Zimbabwe - were just a goal away from forcing a drawing of lots to determine who would finish in second (and play China) and who would end up third (and stuck playing Brazil).
The Aussies couldn’t add another, and since then Germany has been solid, if unspectacular. Behringer had the game’s only goal against a very conservative China in the quarterfinals, and she struck again with the opener as the Germans avenged their loss to Canada with a 2-0 semifinal win. Despite that, Germany has never once looked like one of the world’s top teams, and their place in the final is in some part due to the other elite teams (the US and France) suffering major upsets. Behringer’s goalscoring from midfield has been crucial, as star strikers Anja Mittag and Alexandra Popp have combined for one goal (Popp, against Zimbabwe). Playmaker Dzenifer Maroszan, gifted with the sort of skill and vision to break open any game, has been muted for several games in a row.
Those players will have to bring their best to break down the yellow wall in front of the Swedish goal. Head coach Pia Sundhage’s tactics have been far from subtle: Sweden is here to keep shutouts, and if they can snatch a goal, so be it. Any thoughts the Swedes may have had about opening up a bit were chased away in the group stage, when Brazil tore them apart en route to a 5-1 win. In fact, Sweden’s record at this point in the tournament is, astonishingly, 1W-3D-1L (those penalty kick successes still go down in the record books as draws, because shootouts are simply a tiebreaker), and their one win - 1-0 over South Africa - came back in the group stage. Across five games, Sweden has just three goals, and they have not scored more than one goal in any game. No one on the team has more than one goal to their name.
Nonetheless, the defense first, second, and third strategy has gotten a team that few considered as having a chance to even get bronze within 90 minutes of a gold medal. Lotta Schelin - battling away as a left midfielder despite her natural position being up front - and Kosovare Asllani will be relied upon to provide what chances the Swedes produce, but the real key here is the play of the defensive triangle that is center back duo Nilla Fischer and Linda Sembrant and anchor midfielder Lisa Dahlkvist. Don’t be surprised if Sweden is content to sit in a low block and absorb pressure for 120 minutes.
Location: Maracanã (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
Kickoff time: 4:30pm Eastern
Available TV: NBCSN (English), NBC soccer specialty channel (English), Telemundo (Spanish), NBC Universo (Spanish)
Available streaming: NBCOlympics.com (English), NBC Sports Live Extra app (English), Telemundo Deportes app (Spanish)
Before all that, though, we have the bronze medal game between Canada and Brazil. Brazil, watching the other favorites crash out or underwhelm, likely saw themselves as having a great chance to win gold at home. However, they too have struggled, with both of their knockout round games finishing 0-0 and going to penalties. They were also held to a 0-0 against South Africa in their final group stage game, which means they’ve gone 334 minutes without a goal (despite having scored 8 in their first 180 minutes of competition). Despite the shock of missing the gold medal game, Brazil will be desperate to take the bronze in hopes that it might draw more attention from the Brazilian federation and sponsors towards the women’s game.
Canada, meanwhile, knows this territory well, as they won bronze in the 2012 London Olympics by shocking France with a stoppage time game-winner from Washington Spirit star Diana Matheson. The Canadians were not seen as much of a threat to do more than get out of their group, as their whole program has started a transition towards a younger generation. Nearly half of Canada’s roster is under 24 years old, including two teenagers and five players who are currently attending American colleges.
Fans of the Spirit will no doubt be aware that Canada’s lineup is highly likely to include goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe and center back Shelina Zadorsky, both first-choice for the NWSL’s league leader. Matheson has not been an every-game starter for Canada thus far, but this may be part of a strategy of rotation due to the compressed nature of the tournament. In any case, they’re in for a tough match against a Brazil team that given up just one goal in five games (and that was in the 89th minute of a game they were leading 5-0 at the time). To get back on the medal stand, it will probably take Canada’s best performance of the tournament.
Location: Arena Corinthians (São Paulo, Brazil)
Kickoff time: 12:00pm Eastern
Available TV: MSNBC (English), NBC soccer specialty channel (English)
Available streaming: NBCOlympics.com (English), NBC Sports Live Extra app (English)
For listings in other countries and for the day’s other games, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
Check back around 90 minutes before the gold medal game kicks off for our gamethread. For the bronze medal game, treat this as the gamethread. I know, it’s complicated.