Germany women burn past a non-bunkering Sweden, win first Olympics gold medal

Germany players celebrate after being awarded their Olympic gold medals. (Photo by Luis Acosta/AFP/Getty Images)

The Germany women’s national team won their first-ever gold medal on Friday in wild win over Sweden, 2-1. Sweden settled for their best Olympics finish ever for the silver medal.

For Germany coach Silvia Neid, the win caps off her impressive career and leaves Germany on a high note — Neid announced last year she’d step down from the coaching job following this Olympics after 11 years in charge. She won a World Cup in 2007 and two European championships, but the Olympics had been the last big prize she hadn’t claimed — until Friday. Now, Germany will transition with Neid taking over a scouting role for the women’s program while assistant coach Steffi Jones will take over.

Sweden, led by former U.S. coach Pia Sundhage, did not bring out the deep defensive bunker that ended up being so controversial — and effective — through the knockout stages and helped eliminate the U.S. women’s national team. Sweden were still defensive, but came to play and pressed more in the early game than they did in the knockouts. They had plenty of shots too, especially as they pushed late chasing the game, but their finishing betrayed them. In the end, Germany were the dominant side, out-shooting Sweden 23-12 and holding the edge in possession at 57 percent.

Germany took the lead in the 48th minute on a beautiful curling and well-placed strike from Dzsenifer Marozsan at the top of the box. The Germans’ lead was doubled by a Linda Sembrant own-goal that took an unexpected bounce on her attempted clearance.

But Germany kept the match interesting by refusing to engage in the usual late-game time-wasting and bunkering of a team that has pulled ahead. Stina Blackstenius pulled one back for Sweden within six minutes of the own goal and the Swedes looked close to an equalizer from then on. Sweden had a handful of big moments in front of goal in the frantic final 10 minutes, but they were never able to capitalize and find the right shot.

Sweden shouldn’t feel too bad about the result, though. After a pretty dismal Women’s World Cup last summer that saw them exit in the round of 16, they figured out in this Olympics how to win with considerably less firepower than their opponents, sending both the U.S. and Brazil packing. It wasn’t always pretty, and U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo touched off a big debate about Sweden’s tactics when she said they played like “a bunch of cowards,” but it was darn effective and smart soccer. Now, Sweden have their first-ever Olympics medal.

For Sundhage, the mastermind of the 4-5-1 bunker that eked out two crucial knockout wins, she has her third medal in as many Olympics. She won back-to-back golds when she coached the U.S. in 2008 and 2012. After a poor World Cup after taking over Sweden, silver in Rio is nothing short of a success.

But it's really Neid's moment, her final bit of glory in the spotlight after a dominant tournament that saw Germany out-score their opponents in Brazil, 14-5, and secure the team's best-ever Olympic finish.