The last time Stephanie Labbe faced Sweden, she led Canada to a 6-5 penalty shootout win for third place at the Algarve Cup.
The 32-year-old goalkeeper from Stony Plain, Alta., made a fine diving save to parry a Hanna Glas spot kick and Jessie Fleming buried Canada’s seventh attempt to secure the nail-biting victory.
On Monday, the fifth-ranked Canadians face the ninth-ranked Swedes in the round of 16 at the Women’s World Cup and Labbe expects things to be just as tight as the 0-0 tie in March that prompted the shootout.
“Seems like every time we play Sweden, it’s pretty evenly matched,” Labbe said after training Saturday. “I think we’re expecting a similar thing. Of course that one went to PKs. Hopefully this one doesn’t.”
If it does, Labbe says she is ready.
“These are the moments that we train for. These are the games that you want to be playing in … When you get to this point, this is when the magic happens, when anything can happen,” she said.
The Canadian women are 5-12-3 all-time against Sweden although they are 3-2-3 over the last eight meetings dating back to November 2011.
“They’re a team that always shows up in the big tournaments,” said captain Christine Sinclair who missed her penalty in the Algarve Cup shootout but has notched eight of her 182 career goals against the Swedes.
“Obviously they won the silver medal in the last Olympics. They’re a world-class team, very well-organized with some great players. It’s going to be a great game.”
Canada won the bronze in Rio, downing host Brazil 2-1 to get on the podium after losing 2-0 to Germany in the semifinals. The Germans, who suffered a first-ever loss to Canada in the Olympic group phase, then edged the Swedes 2-1 on an 82nd-minute own goal in the gold-medal game.
Ironically, the second-ranked Germans await Monday’s winner at the Parc des Princes, the 45,600-capacity home to Paris Saint-Germain.
The iconic stadium hosted the 1960 and ’84 European Championship finals. France downed Spain 2-0 in the 1984 final there thanks to a goal by captain Michel Platini, the former UEFA president who made headlines this week when he was questioned as part of a corruption investigation into the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar.
Germany blanked No. 38 Nigeria 3-0 in the first game of the knockout round Saturday and will be idle until the June 29 quarterfinal in Rennes.
Canada coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller did not speak to the media Saturday after a training session that drew some two dozen media with Swedes outnumbering their Canadian counterparts by more than two to one.
Sinclair, midfielder Desiree Scott and fullback Allysha Chapman did not take part in the warmups in the part of training open to the media.
“There’s a group of us (that) once you get over 30 you get like every fourth day off,” Sinclair, whose right ankle was bandaged, said with a laugh.
Canada opened the tournament with a 1-0 win over No. 46 Cameroon and 2-0 victory over No. 19 New Zealand before falling 2-1 to the eighth-ranked Netherlands in the final preliminary round game.
Sweden defeated No. 39 Chile 2-0 and No. 34 Thailand 5-1 before losing 2-0 to the top-ranked U.S.
Sinclair said there has been a subtle change in the Canadian camp now that the tournament has switched to the knockout round.
“There probably is just knowing that all the work that we’ve put in, if the result happens to not go our way we’re heading home. But I think we’re trying very hard to just make it feel like any other day, any other game we’re preparing for as best we can.”
Sinclair says lessons were learned in the Dutch loss.
“We went back and revisited that. (There are) some things we need to improves upon if we want to advance in this tournament.”
Going into the Dutch game, the Canadians had conceded just one goal in the previous 10 games this year. Labbe drew some criticism after the game on the winning goal when she came out but just failed to get a hand on the cross, allowing substitute Lineth Beerensteyn to knock it in.
The Canadian camp remains solidly behind their ‘keeper, who has 31 shutouts in 64 career appearances.
“I think there comes a point in every tournament where your ‘keeper’s got to save you. We have all the trust in the world in her back there,” said Sinclair. “She did it in Rio for us and she’s just a calming influence back there. If we happen to give up a chance or two, we have full trust that she’ll get it out of there.”
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press