What a difference three days can make, as Canada's joy turned to tears at Rio 2016. The broad grins worn after Saturday's quarter-final win at the Women's Olympic Football Tournament were wiped out yesterday as they missed out on a spot in the showpiece game, losing 2-0 to Germany in Belo Horizonte.
Their reactions after the final whistle said it all, with Ashley Lawrence cutting a devastated figure as players literally collapsed to the ground in despair. As the result sunk in, it was left to the older hands to console their younger colleagues, and full-back Rhian Wilkinson was one of the senior players able to swallow her emotions. "Germany are a great team and they frustrated us," she told FIFA.com afterwards.
"We lacked precision in every area of the game. They deserved to win, but we have a right to feel very disappointed. I'd even go as far as saying we have an obligation to feel sad. We're competitors. It's very tough to lose a game like that and have to miss out on the gold medal. But tomorrow we absolutely need to get going again. We didn't come here to finish fourth – we came to win a medal. Tonight we'll cry and then tomorrow we'll get back on the front foot. We don't have a choice."
Thus spoke the voice of experience. At 34, Wilkinson is the second oldest member of the Canada squad, just a few months younger than Melissa Tancredi. She is also their third most capped player of all time, having racked up 180 appearances since making her debut in 2003. In short, she has seen it all, with two Olympic Games and four FIFA Women's World Cups™ under her belt before the current tournament. Indeed, few know better that joy can quickly turn to tears in football – even in the wake of success, as she summed up neatly on Twitter following Canada's quarter-final win against France:
— rhian wilkinson (@rhirhi8) August 13, 2016
So too can misery give way to euphoria, and the Quebec native discovered that for herself during her greatest achievement with the national team – almost four years ago to the day. One of six survivors in John Herdman's squad from London 2012, she was part of the side that lost out to arch-rivals USA in the semi-finals before going on to claim bronze against France. Three times the Canucks led their southern neighbours only to lose in added time at the end of extra time, but they promptly picked themselves up from that bitterest of defeats.
"It's true, I experienced an incredible moment in London, without doubt the greatest of my career," she said, still visibly reeling from the loss to Germany. "But this team is even stronger than our side four years ago. I'm convinced of that. We have to and we will do everything to win another bronze medal and relive that experience."
Heartbreak tonight. Thank you Canada for your love and support, tomorrow we prepare to bring home the bronze. #can
— rhian wilkinson (@rhirhi8) August 17, 2016
The challenge now is to turn those words into reality. That is no easy task, given the disappointment etched into the faces of some of her team-mates, plus their obvious fatigue after an epic contest, but Wilkinson believes they can turn things around once again.
A coach at the University of Tennessee during her time off from playing, she even has a plan of action. "Whether you're a coach or a player, it's the same – there's nothing you can say in the heat of the moment," she explained. "There are no words that can make it better. I think we need to give the players time to digest this defeat, cry a little, talk to their families and recover. That's very important. And then it's back to work."
They certainly have their work cut out, with hosts Brazil and their thousands of supporters hoping to pip the Canucks to bronze in Sao Paulo on Friday. Beaten by Sweden at the Maracana, A Seleçao have no intention of suffering the agony of another loss on home soil. "They're a very strong team," said Wilkinson. "And they'll have their fans behind them, which obviously helps in games when there's something at stake. But there's no secret or magic formula if you want to win a medal: you have to give everything on the pitch. And that's possibly what we didn't do enough against Germany. We now have to finish strongly to leave here with no regrets. We have to take something home for ourselves and Canada." There could be no better way to turn those tears back to joy.