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The best and worst moments of 2016 Olympic women’s soccer

The United States was eliminated early, but there was plenty of other stuff to talk about from 2016

USA v Sweden Quarterfinal: Women's Football - Olympics: Day 7 Photo by Celso Junior/Getty Images

The Olympics are over, long live the Olympics.

Perhaps there was no transcendent semifinal 4-3 game in which two teams traded goals until a last minute game winner overcame an iconic player’s determination to drag her country to a gold-medal match through sheer willpower, but there was plenty of tension and drama to make it interesting. Some American fans might have checked out after that [insert adjective here depending on how you feel about defensive football] quarterfinal loss to Sweden, but that means they missed some great discussion points. Here are some of the best and worst moments of the 2016 Olympic women’s soccer tournament.


Zimbabwe scores on three much more powerful teams

They might be ranked #93 in the world, and they might have been facing #10 Canada, #5 Australia, and #2 Germany in Group F, but Zimbabwe didn’t for a second act like it came to Brazil to be a spot-filler. Sure they got blown out 6-1 twice and their most respectable result was 3-1 against Canada and they left with a goal differential of -12, but they also got one back on three world top 10 teams. Considering they weren’t even really supposed to be there and their federation was in turmoil leading up to the tournament, that’s as much as you can ask for from Zimbabwe and a little more. That’s great for the development of their team and for the competitiveness of women’s soccer as a whole.

Understrength Canada finally beats Germany and tops group after a lackluster World Cup

Group F ended up being the party group after tons of people - including me - predicted Germany would have a mostly rote group and end up on top. WRONG. SO WRONG. Australia was looking hot coming into the tournament and Canada was trying to pick itself up after collapsing under the weight of expectation at the 2015 World Cup. Lots of Canadian fans and press were talking about just trying to have a non-embarrassing group stage as a good thing. Surprise, it’s Janine Beckie.

Canada started off lit with Beckie’s 19-second goal against Australia and kind of didn’t take their foot off the pedal until they hit semifinals. Going into their last group game against Germany, there was talk of heavy roster rotation and not really needing much of a result in order to come second in group and get a favorable placement in quarterfinals. Germany rotated their roster too, but they were still the favorite to win that game, and it looked it would stay that way through an early Germany penalty that put them up 1-0. Until Melissa Tancredi scored in the 26’ and Canada just never stopped pushing, until it was 2-1 full time and they were top of group after beating Germany for the first time ever. And they did it without Christine Sinclair. Not bad.

Mallory Pugh’s first Olympic goal

Maybe this is too USA-centric on a list of best and worst overall moments, but young players getting first Olympic goals is always heartwarming. (See above: Janine Beckie.)

It was a great goal too - no toe pokes here. Pugh showed that preternatural calmness carrying the ball in the box surrounded by yellow jerseys, and with four players closing in on her from every side, got off a low, hard shot that went through six players, including the goalkeeper, to get in the back of the net.


Marta pleads with Brazil to continue supporting women’s soccer

It’s hard not to feel something when you see a singular generational talent like Marta with red-rimmed eyes practically begging her country to continue supporting the women’s national team. The Brazil WNT started the tournament on an upswing, partly buoyed by a lackluster start on the men’s side. People were marking out Neymar’s name on jerseys to write in “Marta” in a combination of defiance and scarcity of actual Marta jerseys. But as the women began to struggle, then eventually got booted from the tournament after going to penalty kicks with Sweden, the support started drying up. After Brazil lost the bronze medal match to Canada, Marta made her plea, especially poignant for a player who has helped carry the national program for so long with minimal support from her own federation.

“I ask the Brazilian people, don’t stop supporting women’s soccer, don’t stop it. We need you all so much,” she said. This has not stopped CBF from considering changing the way they fund the women’s team by getting rid of their monthly salaries.

So. Many. Penalty Kicks.

After going every Olympic tournament without hitting penalties, the women’s tournament saw three penalty shootouts in 2016. Brazil and Australia, Brazil and Sweden, and yes, Sweden and USA all went to penalties and it was awful every single time. Sweden got a lot of flak for dragging two teams in a row to penalties through the use of their low block and quick but rare counters, but the real heartbreaker was Brazil and Australia deadlocking for 120 minutes after a gutsy, exciting, back-and-forth quarterfinal that left a lot of people feeling like both teams deserved to go through. Penalties may create drama, but they’re an awful way to decide an outcome, especially in an Olympic knockout game. Until someone comes up with something better (two attackers vs one defender and the GK, anyone?), we’re stuck with them.

The entire Hope Solo post-Sweden hot mess

Yes, Hope Solo put Sweden on blast after the quarterfinal. Yes, she said something in poor sportsmanship and yes what else did you expect from one of the more volatile voices in the game after getting knocked out of the Olympics. What really made this messy was the whole aftermath with critics calling her words “Trumpian” (just do a twitter search for her name and his) and teammates having to cover for her in interviews as it became the talking point after the game and tired gendered debates resurfacing about how female athletes are expected to behave. The actual last word on the matter probably should have come from Sweden coach Pia Sundhage:

Those were our highs and lows; what were your unforgettable moments from the Olympic tournament?