August 6, 2012
by Michael Lewis
A GAME FOR THE AGES
Morgan’s extratime, stoppage-time goal lifts US over Canada in Olympic semifinal
MANCHESTER -- Like two great prizefighters battling for the ultimate prize, the U.S. and Canada women's soccer teams traded punches and counterpunches in an epic 120-minute Olympic women's semifinal on Monday night. But the USA got in the final blow, as Alex Morgan’s header in the third minute of extratime stoppage lifted the U.S. to a 4-3 triumph and into Thursday’s gold medal match against Japan at Wembley Stadium.
|Alex Morgan had not scored since the USA’s Olympic-opening tournament win over France, but snapped her drought with the extratime game-winner against Canada on Monday that set up a gold medal match showdown with Women’s World Cup champions Japan.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
As the game slowly ticked toward a dreaded penalty kick tiebreaker, second-half sub Heather O'Reilly sent a right-wing cross to Morgan, who headed the ball over goalkeeper Erin McLeod and into the net on a chilly summer night at Old Trafford.
The Canadians will face France for the bronze medal in Coventry, also on Thursday.
Going into Monday’s Game for the Ages, the U.S. had enjoyed a 43-3-5 advantage over its Canadian rivals, but you would have never known that.
There were heroic performances on both sides. Canada striker Christine Sinclair sparked Canada with a rare Olympic hat trick. U.S. midfielder Megan Rapinoe had two goals, starting with a truly Olympic goal, directly off a corner kick.
And American striker Abby Wambach converted the equalizer in regulation in the 80th minute.
After the U.S. dominated the first 10 minutes, the Canadians finally found themselves and started to play on even terms. In fact, they dominated the next 10 minutes, and Sinclair made the Americans pay as she lifted the Maple Leafs into a 1-0 lead in the 22nd minute, after Wambach lost the ball at midfield. Marie-Eve Nault started the scoring sequence with a quick pass to Melissa Tancredi. Tancredi flipped the ball to Sinclair, who took one touch past defender Rachel Buehler and put a move on Kelley O'Hara before beating goalkeeper Hope Solo from 10 yards.
It was Sinclair's 141st career goal.
The Canadians almost doubled their lead five minutes later, when Sophie Schmidt headed a point-blank attempt from the left side that Solo caught at the near post.
The U.S. soon awakened, and had a couple of close encounters during a seven-minute span.
First, Morgan headed Rapinoe’s free kick just wide left in the 31st minute. Then Morgan found all sorts of room on the right flank, brought the ball close to the goal line and sent a cross to Wambach, who headed her eight-yard opportunity wide right of the net and keeper Erin McLeod.
The U.S. began the second half throwing everything they could at the Canadians, who withstood the early pressure. On the left side, Morgan fed Wambach, who chested the ball and then fired a volley over the bar and into the stands in the 50th minute.
Four minutes later, the Americans scored off straight off a Rapinoe corner kick -- an Olympic goal -- in an Olympic game. Rapinoe sent a drive into the box that went through the legs of defender Lauren Sesselmann and into the net just inside the near post. The ball hit McLeod's leg after it traveled over the line.
It was Rapinoe's second goal of the tournament.
But Canada refused to wilt, recapturing the lead in the 68th minute. This time Tancredi beat Christie Rampone on the left wing, and launched a cross that Sinclair headed home past O'Hara for a 2-1 advantage. The goal put Sinclair into a tie with Wambach with 142 goals on the all-time list.
The Americans, however, equalized on a Rapinoe blast from 17 yards from just inside the area, a line drive that hit off the left post and into the net in the 70th minute.
Sinclair was still up to the task as she headed home her third goal of the match, this one off a corner kick from eight yards that left Solo hopping mad. The shot nestled just inside the left post over the head of defender Amy LePeilbet, who had cheated toward the center of the net to leave the critical opening.
Then, it was the U.S.'s turn to equalize. McLeod was called for taking too long -- more than the allotted six seconds -- to kick the ball from the penalty area and the ball was brought back for an indirect free kick at the top of the box. Rapinoe wound up taking a shot that hit the Sesselmann’s hand, and referee Christian Pedersen (Norway) awarded a penalty kick. Wambach drilled the ball into the lower left corner for a 3-3 tie and her 143rd international goal.
It was the fifth consecutive match Wambach has scored at least one goal in this tournament.