Canada claimed Olympic women’s football gold in dramatic fashion under the leadership of former England assistant Bev Priestman.
The 35-year-old from Consett in County Durham was working under Phil Neville with England until as recently as 2020 before taking the job with Canada in October last year.
In less than a year she has helped Canada end a 20-year winless streak against the USA – leading to some harsh words from Megan Rapinoe that have since become a political talking point in the States – before overseeing a first gold medal in women’s football.
They did not do it the easy way, trailing to Stina Blackstenius’ first-half strike, the Swedish striker scoring in the Olympic final for the second Games in succession. Like her teammates, she was left to wonder what might have been after another silver medal five years on from a 2-1 loss to Germany.
A penalty from Jessie Fleming midway through the second half levelled matters, and it was from the spot that Canada eventually prevailed, live on Eurosport and discovery+.
They rode their luck in extra-time, with the Scandinavians looking much more threatening but unable to finish off their chances.
Even when it came to penalties, it seemed that Sweden would come out on top, Hedvig Lindahl saving two and watching another come back off the bar as the Swedes led 2-1 with skipper Caroline Seger striding forward with the chance to seal it.
She blew the opportunity, blasting over before Deanne Rose equalised with the pick of the spot-kicks into the top-right corner. Jonna Andersson’s effort was then saved by Stephanie Labbe, a whirring blur before every penalty and successfully distracting some. That left Julia Grosso to seal it, and while it might not have been quite as emphatic as her namesake Fabio for Italy in the 2006 World Cup final, her low strike had just enough on it to squeeze past Lindahl and in.
And so it is Canada who claim gold, their first in the first-ever penalty shootout in an Olympic women’s final, as Priestman followed in the footsteps of George Raynor, who led Sweden’s men to football gold in 1948, the last English coach to do so.
These Games were supposed to be the opportunity for world champions America to reclaim the title they lost in surprise fashion in Rio.
Then it was a quarter-final exit to Sweden, this time around they got a round further before the Canada upset.
Canadians were certainly upset at Rapinoe’s reaction to that defeat: “Obviously we never want to lose to Canada. I don’t think I’ve ever lost to Canada.”
From the darling of 2018 in some circles when she stood up to Donald Trump, there was some pushback on that comment.
Inevitably it also drew a response from the former president, clearly still smarting from the snub he received from Rapinoe and the US team after that World Cup success, to the point that he could not even bring himself to say her name.
Olympic bronze medallist Megan Rapinoe celebrates after USA’s victory over Australia
After the US claimed bronze with a 4-3 win over Australia, in which Rapinoe scored twice, Trump released a typically incoherent statement: “If our soccer team, headed by a radical group of leftist maniacs, wasn’t woke, they would have won the gold medal instead of the bronze.
“Woke means you lose, everything that is woke goes bad, and our soccer team certainly has. There were, however, a few patriots standing. Unfortunately, they need more than that respecting our country and national anthem. They should replace the wokesters with patriots and start winning again.
“The woman with the purple hair played terribly and spends too much time thinking about radical left politics and not doing her job!”
The movement of the American right to prove their patriotism by cheering against US sports teams has gathered pace in a manner few could have predicted.
Against that backdrop, an up-and-coming coach from County Durham has flown under the radar to lead Canada to the ultimate accolade in women’s football.
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