In front of a pro-Brazil crowd at the Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro, Sweden outlasted Brazil, 4-3, in penalties after a scoreless 120 minutes on Tuesday to advance to the gold medal match. Sweden will face Germany, who advanced with a 2-0 win over Canada. Brazil will play for the bronze medal on Friday against Canada.
If you’re Sweden, Saturday August 6 was a day to forget. Brazil made quick work of Sweden in a 5-1 rout during group-stage play and handed the program its worst defeat.
Unlike the group stage, an Olympic semifinal is a bigger, more daunting task — both teams know they’re one step away from a chance at gold. For Pia Sundhage’s side, Tuesday’s rematch also served as a second chance to wipe away the bad memories from their previous encounter.
Sweden deployed similar tactics from their quarterfinal win over the United States as they defended with numbers behind the ball and stayed as organized and compact as possible. Sweden’s lone route forward was playing balls directly in the path of Stina Blackstenius but without much support, Blackstenius didn’t create many chances in the first 45 minutes.
The space, however, allowed Brazil to use the width of the field as often as they wanted to, which they did. Marta ran rampant down the right side of the field, often terrorizing Swedish defenders, specifically Elin Rubensson and Linda Sembrant, as the pair were tasked with the job of containing the five-time FIFA World Player of the Year. Marta’s pace and skill created numerous chances and corner kicks throughout the first half
But Brazil couldn’t find a final product despite 15 shots, 6 corner kicks, and 71% of the possession, and the first half ended goalless.
Almost in similar fashion to their quarterfinal match, Sweden came out of halftime connecting on short passes and hitting better balls over the top. In addition, when they weren’t winning those long balls, they stayed higher up the field and pressured Brazil’s back line. That pressure forced a key error by Brazil’s goalkeeper Bárbara close to the hour mark as her clearance turned into a chance for Blackstenius, which was saved.
Brazil continued to create chances and earn more set pieces and corner kicks. Service off those set pieces lacked sharpness and effectiveness. While there weren’t any free kicks hit directly at goal, few crosses were dangerous and the shots that did go on target hardly tested Sweden’s Hedvig Lindahl. And because of that, the 90 minutes ended scoreless and into extra time, the second time this tournament both teams played beyond 90 minutes.
In the first period of extra time, Cristiane, who was injured earlier in the tournament, came off the bench to try and inspire Brazil in their quest for a breakthrough. The best chance of the extra time periods came in the 116th minute when Brazil earned a free kick roughly 25 yards from goal. Marta’s effort wasn’t hit hard enough and Lindahl was able to take it on the bounce. Four minutes later, Lindahl attempted to punch clear a long ball into the box but twice her defenders delivered key blocks before clearing away further danger to ensure the match would go to penalties.
Penalty Kick Shootout
After both teams converted their first kicks, Lindahl denied Cristiane to give her team a momentary advantage but Bárbara stopped Kosovare Asllani right after to keep things level. After the next two takers for each team converted, Lindahl came up with a sterling save to stop Andressinha’s attempt and give Sweden a chance to win.
And Lisa Dahlkvist, as she did against the U.S. three days prior, calmly buried her penalty to send Sweden to the gold-medal match and secure the team’s first Olympic medal in the process.
Brazil will be disappointed with this result, no doubt about it. This was the tournament that many gave them a real chance of winning. While the goals dried up after their second match in the group stage, they played with flair and courage not often seen since their great runs in the 2007 World Cup and beijing 2008 Olympics. But what was enjoyable to see was the ovation that the Maracanã crowd gave them after the match. They knew that their countrywomen left everything on the field that afternoon and will hope to see them succeed on Friday in the bronze-medal match.
For Sweden, it hasn’t been pretty. There have been low points in this competition, ranging from barely getting past South Africa in their opening match and conceding five goals for the first time in their history to Brazil right after. However, the team has kept to their game plan, the defense has stayed organized, and most important, won the matches they needed to. And now they’ll have a chance to win the gold against Germany on Friday.