Tokyo Olympics: The wonderkids who proved experience isn’t everything

Jessie Fleming
Jessie Fleming celebrates after scoring from the penalty spot during the second half of Canada's 1-0 Olympic semifinal victory over the United States on August 2, 2021, at Kashima Stadium. (Photo by IMAGO / Xinhua)

Going into the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament, I heard people speak about how important experience was and how you needed experienced players to win the tournament.

I wasn’t feeling it whatsoever.

Football is football. It doesn’t matter if you’re 38 or 22. If you’re ready, then you’re ready. Simple as that. It can be easy to look at the US Women’s National Team model and think they’ve brought bags of experience which means they were going to come back with a gold medal. Update – they didn’t. They were beaten by someone who had never even challenged for a gold medal at the Games before.

Ice cold Fleming

23-year-old Jessie Fleming scored two crucial penalties in the semi-final and final to lead Canada to their first gold medal in the competition.

On her way to the final, there was an interesting moment when Canada captain and 38-year-old veteran Christine Sinclair picked up the ball and handed it to Fleming to take one of the most important penalties in the nation’s history.

Why would the record international appearance holder who has won medals at the Olympics already pass on such responsibility to a player with half her experience?

She did it because experience means nothing.

Sinclair knew Fleming was ready because she was present, in the moment. That act of leadership is what I believe won Canada the gold medal. Fleming scored those penalties not because she was experienced but because she could cope with the pressure.

Pressure beats experience

In the penalty shootout between Sweden and Canada, Caroline Seger missed the decisive penalty that would have won Sweden the gold medal. 22-year-old Deanne Rose then scored the best penalty of the entire shootout. To further rub salt into the experienced wounds, the winning penalty was scored by 20-year-old Julia Grosso, who has 29 caps.

Honourable mention goes to the superstar that is Vivianne Miedema, who achieved Golden Boot at her first Olympics.

My personal favourite is Lauren Hemp, another one of the wonderkids of the tournament. She was unplayable at 20 years old, caused havoc for defences at every possible opportunity. Last but not least, massive props to Barbra Banda. She finished second in the Golden Boot race whilst playing for underfunded Zambia at just 22-years-old.

In conclusion, call up the wonderkids. Experience isn’t everything.

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