MANCHESTER: A headed goal seconds from the end of extra time by Alex Morgan edged United States to a thrilling 4-3 win over Canada in their Olympic women’s semi-final – and meant Canadian star Christine Sinclair finished on the losing side despite scoring a hat-trick.
Afterwards Canada’s skipper said she would happily have exchanged all her 143 goals – including six at these Games – for her country for a place in the final.
Until Morgan headed home a Heather O’Reilly cross the Americans had never been ahead but that goal ensured they maintained their record of reaching every Olympic final since the women’s tournament’s inception in 1996.
Christine Sinclair bagged a hat-trick, taking her tally at London 2012 to six goals and putting Canada ahead on three separate occasions, only for Megan Rapinoe, twice, and Abby Wambach to equalise and keep US hopes alive.
The Americans now face world champions Japan, who beat US to win the Women’s World Cup in 2011, in the gold medal match at Wembley on Thursday. Canada have the chance to earn a bronze medal against the other beaten semi-finalists, France, in Coventry earlier that day.
The US had not looked back since recovering from a two-goal deficit to beat France in their opening match of the tournament and they were dominant throughout the opening twenty minutes.
Determined to retain a clean sheet, Canada were aggressive in the tackle and for all their lack of possession, restricted their neighbours to half-chances as they weathered a storm of attacks.
When a goal for the US seemed inevitable, Canada delivered a sucker-punch on 22 minutes. Driving towards the American goal, Melissa Tancredi found team-mate Sinclair with a precise pass.
Sinclair continued her momentum from joining the counter-attack to run into the box, skilfully elude a defender and maintain her composure to slide a finish past Hope Solo.
Suddenly the US were rattled and the Canadians could have doubled their advantage five minutes later. Again it was a swift counter-attack which provided the chance, this time for Sophie Schmidt, who guided a header towards goal which Solo handled well.
Pia Sundhage’s team reacted impressively and Morgan was involved in key moments twice in quick succession. Firstly she was found by an inswinging Rapinoe free-kick but her glancing header drifted agonisingly wide of the far post.
Then, not for the first time in the opening period, Morgan was released with space on the right hand side and her cross was aimed for strike partner Wambach, who connected with a strong header which finished off target.
If clear chances were minimal during the first 45 minutes, the floodgates opened when the second half began, as Canada and the US shared one of the most pulsating halves in the history of women’s football.
Rapinoe’s delivery from set-pieces and open play was a significant feature of the first half and, nine minutes after the restart, the 27-year-old helped the US to level the score. Her whipped corner-kick caused havoc among the Canada defence and squeezed in at the near post to make it 1-1.
Sinclair and Tancredi have been one of the star duos of London 2012 and the pair combined again in the 68th minute to regain the lead for Canada. The latter made room for herself on the left wing and a pinpoint cross found her colleague, who directed a header back towards goal and past Solo’s reach.
The goal was the catalyst for a stunning period of football and perhaps the most exciting of the tournament so far. After providing cross after cross, Rapinoe chose a more direct route two minutes after the US fell behind for the second time, smashing a brilliant shot off the post and in to equalise.
Canada simply refused to give in, however, and, with the third goal in five thrilling minutes, Sinclair claimed her hat-trick and put John Herdman’s team ahead for the third time. The 29-year-old rose highest to reach a Schmidt corner from the left side and beat Solo with another header.
With 10 minutes left on the clock, the US clawed their way back into the match yet again. Having scored in each of the US’s matches at the tournament to date, Wambach again wrote her name on the scoresheet, converting a penalty after the referee awarded a spot-kick for handball from a Rapinoe free-kick.
Wambach could have claimed a winner when found at the back post by Morgan but her effort went wide, before Schmidt ran clear of the American defence only to be thwarted by Solo as extra time was required to decide the match.
The pace showed no sign of slowing down during the additional period, but the closest either side came was in the 118th minute, when Wambach’s looping header bounced back off the crossbar. Penalties seemed inevitable as the remaining seconds disappeared, until Morgan had her moment.
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