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Stephane Labbe's gutsy performance lifts Canada's women into Olympic semifinal

·4-min read

The Canadian Women's National Team will vie for a medal in Tokyo 2020, thanks in large part to a brilliant performance from its netminder.

Stephanie Labbe made two stops in penalties to erase a shocking miss from Christine Sinclair, helping Canada survive Brazil in the quarterfinal of the Olympic tournament.

Goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe's comeback performance in penalties rescued Canada from the jaws of defeat, teeing up a semifinal showdown with the Americans. (Getty)
Goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe's comeback performance in penalties rescued Canada from the jaws of defeat, teeing up a semifinal showdown with the Americans. (Getty)

It was Labbe's first clean sheet of the tournament, and it could not have come at a better time.

Here are the main takeaways from the game:

Only barely

If time wasn't a consideration, it's possible that Canada is making arrangements to head home. Though the game was mostly even, it seemed as though the Canadians were beginning to wobble heading into the end of regular time and through the 30 bonus minutes. Brazil's substitutes were far more effective, and pressure was mounting considerably on the Canadian back line and keeper Labbe.

They earned a 50-50 proposition by seeing it through to the final whistle, however the odds almost immediately plummeted. Sinclair's miss was a devastating start to the test of composure that would decide the game, and it appeared as though Canada was on the verge of finally breaking.

So as much credit belongs to Labbe for her tournament-saving stops, we should not forget the responses from Canadian penalty takers following the Sinclair miss. Conversions from Jessie Fleming, Ashley Lawrence, Adriana Leon and Gilles provided Labbe with the opportunity to be legendary.

We will remember Labbe, though, for obvious reasons. Her save on Brazil's Rafaelle is what sealed the game, and it came on the heels of 120 punishing minutes. Brazil's pressure led to a lot of contact involving Labbe, and she even took a cheap — and very dangerous — shot from Debinha just before the final whistle that sent her tumbling to the pitch. Keep in mind that Labbe was forced from the victory over Japan, and forced to miss the Chile game, with an injury to her shoulder and rib.

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Canada needed every bit from Labbe, and she provided it in one of the most memorable performances we'll see from a Canadian goalkeeper.

New life

Christine Sinclair has never had a quality poker face, but her inability to conceal her emotions has never been more evident after she misfired with her moment from the spot. The front of her shirt torn out of frustration and her eyes welling up with tears, Sinclair was emotionally breaking at the thought of having her illustrious Olympic career end on a missed penalty in the build-up to Labbe's saves.

The emotion was just as intense when the result went Canada's way nine shooters later, with relief written all over her face. Labbe's performance and the steady hand of the Canadian penalty takers has given one of the greatest athletes in Canadian sports history second life in what's likely her last major competition.

It has not been a brilliant tournament for Sinclair, 38, who is pretty clearly well past her prime and competing in her fourth Olympics. She's also been banged up, suffering a knock in the win over Chile and appearing to be close to exiting early versus Brazil with a head injury.

Thankfully, the all-time leading goal scorer and Canadian legend has the chance to write a more appropriate final chapter in the semifinals.

Changes to the back

Manager Bev Priestman reverted back to her original lineup for the first test of the knockout round with one exception: Vanessa Gilles in for Shelina Zadorsky at centreback.

Though it might have been required after Zadorsky missed the last match, presumably for reasons beyond merely performance, it was still a curious decision — and one that had a tremendous impact in the game.

To put it best, Gilles was highly involved. There were egregious mistakes, there were incredibly risky desperation tackles. There were also moments of strong defending and a smashing header off the bar that proved to be Canada's best chance to score in the game. It was an up and down performance that looked at times like it was going to be Canada's detriment before ending up being the difference, as it was Gilles who deposited the goal that put Canada ahead in the shootout. 

It was a notably uneven performance as well for Kadeisha Buchanan, who is arguably Canada's best player and its rock defensively. It's reasonable to suggest that Buchanan's lack of familiarity with Gilles was a large contributing factor to her struggles. 

If Zadorsky can't go in the semifinal, it's likely Canada's duo at the back will have to perform better to keep up with an even stronger opponent.

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