US women fail in bid to regain Olympic football title
Canada to meet Sweden in final after first win over Americans in 20 years
The United States' quest to regain the Olympic women's football crown ended dismally yesterday, after a 1-0 defeat by Canada in the semi-finals at the Ibaraki Kashima Stadium.
Jessie Fleming's 74th-minute penalty made the difference as Canada stunned the former Olympic champions to book a spot in Friday's final against Sweden, who had pipped Australia 1-0 in the other semi-final in Yokohama.
|(Jessie Fleming 74-pen)|
This was also Canada's first victory in 20 years over the Americans, who failed to produce a shot on target for the opening hour.
US veteran Megan Rapinoe, 36, admitted it had been a struggle for them, saying: "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."
Since women's football was introduced at the Olympics in 1996, the US had reached every final except Rio 2016, where they lost to Sweden on penalties in the last eight.
They have won the title four times, with the last triumph coming in London 2012.
Despite being the world champions and heavy favourites this time around, the Americans started their tournament badly with a 3-0 loss to Sweden.
Apart from a 6-1 hammering of New Zealand in the group stage, they never got close to the levels they had shown in recent years and needed a penalty shoot-out win over the Netherlands to reach the last four.
The semi was a dull affair until a triple substitution saw Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd and Christen Press brought on - a change which brought new life to the American attack.
The first effort on goal finally arrived in the 65th minute with Lloyd's curling shot tipped over by Stephanie Labbe, and moments later, the Canada goalkeeper did well to keep out a glancing header from Julie Ertz.
But, just as the Americans were piling on the pressure, a Canada break led to the penalty award and the end of the road for Vlatko Andonovski's side.
US defender Tierna Davidson challenged Canada's Deanne Rose on the edge of the area and the penalty was given after a video review.
Fleming tucked the penalty beyond reserve goalkeeper Adrianna Franch, who had replaced the injured first-choice custodian Alyssa Naeher in the first half.
Lloyd nearly equalised when she struck the bar with a header but Canada held on for their first appearance in an Olympic final.
"It has been a long time coming to beat those guys," said Fleming.
"We want to come away with gold now but it is really special for us to put our flag on the map."
The US will meet Australia in the bronze medal play-off on Thursday. - AFP, REUTERS