Carli Lloyd sinks down on her haunches at full time

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After the world champions, the United States, suffered a shock semi-final loss to Canada in one of the biggest upsets of the Tokyo Olympics, winger Megan Rapinoe admitted the US players need to look at themselves and their defeat "sucks".

For Canada – managed by English coach Bev Priestman – their narrow 1-0 victory was a momentous moment as they reached their first Olympic final and beat their neighbours for the first time in 20 years. It saw Canada midfielder Quinn make history as the first openly trans athlete to secure an Olympic medal. They came out as transgender in September 2020 and are now guaranteed at least a silver medal.

The world’s number-one ranked side the USA had been widely expected to claim their fifth gold in this event, but their big-name global stars including Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd misfired throughout the competition.

"It sucks,” 2019 Fifa Best player of the year Rapinoe said. “Obviously you never want to lose, you never want to lose in a world championship, you never want to lose to Canada, obviously, and you never want to lose playing the way we did.

"Football always needs joy, when the game is really played at its best, you have it. I feel like we haven’t been able to do that. Everything has been a little bit of a struggle, passes off here and there. I hope we find it, I love playing with a big smile on my face, I think everybody else does as well."

Rapinoe’s winning penalty kick had sent them through after a tense quarter-final against Holland. That is proving to be one of few highlights in an otherwise largely disappointing Olympic campaign for the strong pre-tournament favourites, who suffered a stunning 3-0 defeat to Sweden in their opening match and were strangely subdued again against Canada, who are ranked eighth in the world.

Chelsea midfielder Jessie Fleming struck the semi-final’s only goal from the penalty spot with 15 minutes to go, to send the delighted Canadians through. They will face Sweden in the final on Friday (3am BST) after the 2016 silver medallists beat Australia 1-0. The Aussies will meet the USA in Thursday’s bronze medal match (9am).

Jessie Fleming celebrates after scoring the only goal of the game

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Canada’s achievement takes them beyond the bronze medals they claimed in 2012 and 2016 and will be a hugely gratifying moment for their English coach, Durham-born Priestman, who was previously Phil Neville’s number two within the England setup until just nine months ago. Neville proudly tweeted his congratulations.

Priestman’s side’s defence held firm and their goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe did well to help keep out their rivals after Vlatko Andonovski made a triple substitution to bring on Rapinoe, Lloyd and former Manchester United striker Christen Press in the second half. 

Lloyd struck the crossbar, with the USA’s best effort. Lloyd, the star of the 2015 World Cup, was then seen alone doing warm-down sprints on the pitch in Kashima while the Canadians enjoyed their celebrations in the dressing room.

And whatever the USA produce in Thursday’s bronze medal match, having failed to reach the final will be seen as a flop for the nation that had won back-to-back World Cups and reached all of the past three World Cup finals. Before these Olympics, the USA had been enjoying a 44-match unbeaten run and had won 22 of their preceding 23 fixtures. Now losing two, drawing two (in 90 minutes) and winning one of their five matches in Japan so far will be labelled as a failure by their fans, who are not used to anything except winning.

This was their first major tournament under head coach Andonovski, who replaced Jill Ellis after she stepped down in 2019 amid a blaze of glory when the USA were the sport’s undisputed Queens. Many in the US have criticised Macedonia-born Andonovski’s tactics, and his squad selection – where he predominantly kept faith with the ‘old guard’ who lifted 2019’s World Cup rather than bringing through younger talents – would appear to have backfired.

However, Rapinoe said she and the playing squad must self-reflect, adding: "I think we need to look at ourselves and need to perform better, period. We don’t have the juice because the ball is banging off our shins, and we’re not finding open passes, not doing the simple things.

"We can deep dive into analysing, but there’s all the preparation and analysing you can do and all the tactics and then there’s everything else. You can’t put a name on everything else, but that’s what we were missing. It’s just the ‘getting it done’ from players, and the players know that.

"Every player in the locker room has 100 things that we would all want to do better and that’s the most frustrating thing for all of us. It’s sad because these things only come around every so often.

“We’ll bounce back from this and this will make every one of those players in the locker room better."

Michelle Akers, who helped the USA win World Cups in 1991 and 1999, believes this setback can help their national team achieve greater things.

Yet the USA’s loss will also serve as further frustration for Team GB, who finished above Canada at the top of Group E yet were eliminated in the last eight, and now the Canadians have reached the final. GB’s agonising 4-3 loss to Australia after extra time last Friday will have hurt GB even more for the fact they know they were very capable of going all the way. 

In a 12-team tournament without European powerhouses Germany, France and Spain, this will go down as a medal opportunity missed for GB.