A header from Alex Morgan in overtime stoppage play lifted the U.S. women’s soccer team to a 4-3 victory over Canada on Monday, setting up a matchup with Japan in Thursday’s gold-medal final.
Japan beat the U.S. on penalty kicks last summer in Germany during the World Cup.
In a game that had more counterpunching than most heavyweight title fights, the U.S. rallied from one-goal deficits three times in regulation, overcoming three goals from Canadian captain Christine Sinclair.
Canada hasn’t beaten the U.S. since the spring of 2001 but gave the Americans -- the pre-Olympic favorites and the world’s top-ranked team -- all they could handle on a cold evening at Old Trafford in Manchester, England.
Playing a physical style more common in hockey than soccer, the Canadians pounded the U.S. -- especially forwards Abby Wambach and Morgan -- all game. But if that hurt the Americans it also wore down the Canadians, who gave up three second-half goals.
The U.S., which trailed 1-0 at the half, started its comeback in the 54th minute on a unusual play that ended in a goal for Megan Rapinoe, whose corner kick intended for Rachel Buehler skidded off the grass, between the legs of Canadian defender Lauren Sesselmann and off the knee of goalkeeper Erin McLeod just inside the near post.
That matched a first-half goal from Sinclair. But the tie lasted only 13 minutes before a long cross found Sinclair again, this time just outside the six-yard box, from where she drove a header off the goal post and into the net.
Rapinoe punched back in the 70th minute with a right-footed bullet from the edge of the penalty area that stuck the goal post, ricocheted across the goal line behind McLeod and into the side of the net.
Sinclair then matched that with another perfectly placed header, this off a corner kick in the 73rd minute, giving her a hat trick as well as the tournament scoring lead with six goals.
U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo went into the game with a 346-minute scoreless streak but Sinclair shattered that, scoring more goals by herself than France, Colombia, North Korea and New Zealand did combined against the U.S.
Hope’s teammates picked her up, though, tying the score with 10 minutes left in regulation on Wambach’s penalty kick.
Referee Christiana Pedersen’s decision to award the penalty came after Rapinoe drove a point-blank shot off an indirect free kick into the protective wall in front of Canada’s net.
The ball struck defender Marie-Eve Nault, who was twisting out of the way, and Pedersen called her for a hand ball. Wambach sent her penalty kick along the grass and into the corner of the net to the right of McLeod.
Solo’s turn to keep the U.S. in the game came just before the end of regulation when she made a huge save on Sophie Schmidt’s shot to preserve the tie.
Wambach nearly won the game at the end of overtime but her header caromed off the crossbar.