By Dan Plouffe
Backup-turned-star defender Vanessa Gilles will collect Ottawa’s first medal of the Tokyo Olympic Games as she and the Canadian women’s soccer team beat USA for the first time in 20 years to advance to the gold medal final.
Deanna Rose flew down the pitch to win a penalty kick and Jessie Fleming converted to give Canada a 1-0 advantage over the #1-ranked team in the world in the 74th minute. Gilles then headed away three balls in the Canadian box during the remaining minutes as Canada held on to reach their first-ever global final. The CBC commentators suggested Gilles was “arguably Canada’s player of the match.”
Gilles’ rock-solid performance comes on the heels of her scoring the game-winning penalty kick in the quarter-final round against Brazil, in just her 8th appearance for Team Canada.
After watching from the sidelines for Canada’s first two games in Tokyo, the 25-year-old got the start in the Canadians’ last group match against Great Britain and has since announced her arrival as one of the world’s best centre-backs.
The victory spelled redemption for Team Canada, which lost a heartbreaking controversial semi-final to USA in extra time at the London 2012 Olympics.
That same summer, Gilles was getting her first kicks in competitive soccer after the former tennis player picked up the sport at Louis-Riel high school at age 15.
“I couldn’t do much with my feet except kick it out of bounds, but I managed to find a club that was willing to take me on as a 15-year-old who couldn’t pass the ball in a straight line,” Gilles said as she reflected on her journey from FC Capital United (now Ottawa TFC) to Team Canada.
Gilles will have the chance to rise to the absolute top of women’s soccer when Canada plays in the gold medal final on Thursday evening in Canada at 10 p.m. ET.
“We’ve always been an incredible team defensively, but I think we have progressed over the years to also become a very tough team to play when we have the ball,” Gilles said in a pre-Games interview with the Sports Pages. “Ultimately, our greatest opponent to get that gold medal will be ourselves, for sure.”
More to come…
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