3 Takeaways from the Olympic Women’s Soccer Semis PLUS Final Preview

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3 Takeaways from the Olympic Women’s Soccer Semis PLUS Final Preview

It will be an all-European gold medal match in Rio on Friday. Another scoreless penalty kick shoot-out sent Sweden past a heartbroken Brazil into the final. There they will face off against Germany, who beat Canada 2-0.

Marta is still the greatest

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Despite Brazil’s failure to make the gold medal match, the Rio Olympics have been another opportunity to for Marta to showcase her brilliance on the pitch in front of her home country.

There’s no denying Marta is an exceptional talent. It’s the little things she does that amaze opponents and spectators alike. For years she’s wreaked havoc on defensive lines and keepers, and this tournament was no different. She’s the total package – pace and power, control and finesse, vision and creativity.

Marta has won countless individual accolades including FIFA’s World Player of the Year Award five years running from 2006 to 2010 – she placed either second or third from 2004 to 2014. She’s also the all-time leading goal-scorer in the World Cup with 15 goals.

She’s taken her club sides to multiple league titles and championship cups, but still there’s always been one missing piece in her trophy collection.

Like Lionel Messi for Argentina, Marta has never won a major international championship with her country. (Messi won a gold medal in 2008 with Argentina but the men’s Olympic tournament isn’t considered on par with the World Cup because of the under-23 age limit.)

At only 30 years old, Marta still has time to revise the history books. She could easily play in the 2019 World Cup and the 2020 Olympics if she choses to. But as she and her veteran teammates Cristiane and Formiga grow older, they will need the younger Brazilian players to step up.

After the match, Brazil’s head coach Vadão reflected on the future saying, “I think to lose Formiga, Marta and Cristiane would be regrettable because we need their experience to lead the next generation.”

Marta and her team brought a packed crowd of cheering Brazilians to Rio’s historic Maracanã stadium at Tuesday’s semifinal. She’s inspired a nation and a new generation of girls and boys to follow in her footsteps.

Whether or not Marta is able to bring home that elusive World Cup or Olympic title won’t matter. She’s already elevated the women’s game to new heights.

Defense wins championships

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Swedish coach Pia Sundhage’s strategy to defend the goal and take their chances in a shoot-out has been heavily criticized, by everyone from Hope Solo to commentators and fans on twitter. But the truth is Sweden’s defensive tactics have earned them a spot in the final. Whether they win gold or silver is still to be determined.

After Sweden were dealt a huge loss in group play by allowing 5 goals against Brazil, they adapted their game plan for the knockout rounds and it’s been paying off. Since that loss, the Swedes have conceded only one goal in 330 minutes of play their last three matches.

In the quarterfinals they were able to hold the USA to one goal despite facing 27 shots, 6 of them on target. Brazil also dominated the match against the Swedes with 33 shots, 10 on target, and 65% possession but they too failed to net a goal.

Sweden’s defense, led by centerback Nilla Fischer, posed an insurmountable obstacle for Brazil’s attack of Marta, Formiga and Andressa Alves. Goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl also came up with saves when she needed to in regulation and extra-time and became Sweden’s hero stopping two Brazil penalty kicks, giving them the victory.

Canada’s perfect streak comes to an end

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It’s hard to meet a formidable opponent twice in a tournament and come out victorious both times. As already mentioned, Sweden adjusted their tactics to beat Brazil in a PK shoot-out after losing to them earlier in the tournament 5 to 1. Similarly, Germany lost to Canada in their third group match 2-1 but came out victorious in the semifinal to advance.

This time around, Germany faced a slightly different Canadian team with Christine Sinclair, Janine Beckie and Kadeisha Buchanan all in the starting line up, who didn’t play in the previous meeting.

Germany’s tactics didn’t change much, however. They came out to attack, putting pressure on Canada’s backline. Kadeisha Buchanan, who didn’t play in the group match because of yellow-card suspension, made a costly foul on Germany’s Alexandra Popp in the box conceding a PK in the 21st minute.

Melanie Behringer stepped up and scored from the spot to give Germany the early lead as she did in the meeting seven days prior. However, with the lead in hand Germany would be a lot more determined to hold Canada at bay and not allow an equalizer.

Germany’s defense did a good job of neutralizing Sinclair, Beckie and Melissa Tancredi who scored two goals in the group match. Then 21 year-old midfielder Sara Däbritz doubled the lead with a goal in the second half, assuring Germany’s advancement.

Final Gold-Medal Match

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Germany v Sweden – Friday, August 19 @ 4:30 p.m. ET

Both teams have already guaranteed themselves a medal, but they will only have their sights set on gold come Friday. This is the first Olympic final for both teams. Germany won bronze three times before in 2000, 2004 and 2008. Sweden’s best Olympic outing was forth place in 2004 having lost out on bronze to Germany.

With Germany’s Anja Mittag and Dzsenifer Marozsán having failed to score a goal so far in the tournament, and with Simone Laudehr out with an injury in the first match, veteran Melanie Behringer and newcomer Sara Däbritz have picked up the slack. Behringer leads all goal-scorers with five goals and Däbritz is not far behind with three.

Germany will have to figure out how to breakdown a stingy Swedish defense that has only allowed one goal in the last three matches. Expect more of the same defensive compactness from Sweden—if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. However, with Sweden coming off two matches that went the distance to 120-minutes in four days, and with only two days off before the final, expect some fatigue to show in Sweden’s game.

Germany meanwhile will want to come out aggressively and press Sweden to exploit their fatigue, while being mindful of their counter attack, as they did against Canada. If the match does go to penalties, it would be hard to deny Swedish keeper Lindahl’s confidence, having already beaten the USA and Brazil in PKs.

Bronze-Medal Match

Brazil v Canada – Friday, August 19 @ 12 p.m. ET

Although heartbroken after the semifinal loss, Brazil still has a chance to earn a medal on home soil. Brazil have two silver medals from the 2004 and 2008 Olympics.

Canada lost to Germany in the semifinals after having gone a perfect 4-0-0 in the tournament. Canada will be vying for their second bronze medal in a row.

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