MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - The United States of America will play in its fifth successive Olympic gold match Thursday after defeating Canada 4-3 Monday afternoon in an absolutely epic semifinal match at Old Trafford. Megan Rapinoe scored two goals for the U.S. and 2007 UNC alumna Heather O'Reilly came off the bench to deliver the game-winning assist in the closing seconds of extra time.
The U.S., which won gold medals in 1996 in Atlanta, 2004 in Athens and 2008 Beijing while claiming silver in 2000 in Sydney, will now meet defending World Cup champion Japan at 2:45 p.m. EDT Thursday at Wembley Stadium in London. The game will be televised live by the NBC Sports Network. A year ago, the Japanese defeated the Americans in penalty kicks in the World Cup final in Germany after a 2-2 tie at the end of extra time.
Monday's semifinal will go down in soccer annals as one of the greatest battles of all-time. Canada, which has not defeated the U.S. since March 11, 2001 and hadn't led in a game against the American side since 2003, thrice led the Americans only to see the U.S. come back each and every time.
The win by the USA overcame an incredible performance by Christine Sinclair of Canada who had a hat trick. Sinclair is the top goal scorer in the 2012 Olympics.
In the 23rd minute, Sinclair put the Canadians up 1-0 when she beat UNC keeper Hope Solo from eight yards out after taking a pass from Melissa Tancredi.
The first half ended with the Canadians up 1-0. But the Americans got the equalizer in the 54th minute when Megan Rapinoe scored directly on a corner kick from the left side, sneaking the ball just inside the near post for a 1-1 tie.
Thirteen minutes later the Canadians seized the lead again as Sinclair finished with her head in the penalty area past Solo off another assist by Tancredi. The lead was short lived as just three minutes later Rapinoe made it 2-2 as her shot banged off the left post and in from 15 yards out.
No one had time to breathe however as in the 73rd minute Sinclair gave the Canadians a 3-2 lead as she headed in a ball from the right side to the far post after a corner kick, catching the U.S. defense flat footed.
Controversy then erupted in the 80th minute as Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod was called for holding on to the ball for too long in the penalty area, awarding the Americans an indirect free kick. On the ensuing free kick, Canada was called for a hand ball and Abby Wambach stepped to the spot and drove a ball into the lower left side for a 3-3 ledger heading into overtime.
Carolina's Tobin Heath played all the way in the midfield for the U.S. Her fellow Tar Heel, Heather O'Reilly, came on in the 101st minute and 22 minutes later she would deliver the cross that led to a dramatic game-winner for the American side.
After Megan Rapinoe stripped the ball in the midfield, O'Reilly, the 2006 National Player of the Year at UNC, drove down the right side and delivered a picture perfect cross that Alex Morgan nodded on over McLeod's outstretched finger tips. It was Morgan's first goal since the opener of group play against France and it literally came seconds before the match was headed to penalty kicks.
Shots: USA 19, Canada 8
Shots on Goal: USA 7, Canada 6
Corner Kicks: USA 12, Canada 5
Offsides: USA 2, Canada 1
Substitutions: USA 3, Canada 2
Yellow Cards: USA 0, Canada 2