NEWCASTLE, England – One thing is certain in the Olympic women's soccer tournament: at least one North American team will earn a medal.
That became a reality on Friday when the United States and Canada won their quarterfinal matches. They were joined by Japan and France in the medal round.
The Americans recorded a hard-fought 2-0 victory over a resolute New Zealand side while the Canadians blanked host Great Britain, 2-0. Those two rivals will meet at Old Trafford in Manchester on Monday night.
"The USA is obviously favorites for the tournament and are on fire right now," said Canada striker Christine Sinclair, who scored her 140th international goal in the win. "But we know them very well and we deserve to be there."
"This team is bound for glory. It might not look pretty in every second of the game, but we get it done," said U.S. striker Abby Wambach, who scored for the fourth consecutive game and her 142nd international goal.
The other semifinal will pit defending Women's World Cup champion Japan against the French at Wembley Stadium the same day.
The winners will qualify for the gold-medal match at Wembley on Aug. 9, while the losers will contend for the bronze medal in Coventry the same day.
Here's a look at the four quarterfinals:
U.S. 2, New Zealand 0
It wasn't the best of days for the Americans, but they just had too many weapons for the New Zealanders to overcome at St. James' Park in Newcastle.
The win lifted them into the medal round for the fifth consecutive time. The U.S. is the only country to play in the final four in any of the 11 major international women's tournaments since the 1991 Women's World Cup.
Wambach found the back of the net in the 27th minute, redirecting an Alex Morgan shot past goalkeeper Jenny Bindon.
Second-half substitute Sydney Le Roux, who replaced an ailing Morgan (charley horse), gave the three-time Olympic champions some breathing room in the 87th minute.
New Zealand coach Tony Readings was convinced that the U.S. will earn it third consecutive gold medal and fourth overall.
"We dominated large times of possession. It's a well-organized team," he said. "They're not the No. 1 team in the world for no reason.
"They're very hard to stop because they have so many threats."
Canada 2, Great Britain 0
Striker Christine Sinclair could not find the right words after Canada defeated the hosts at the City of Coventry Stadium in Coventry.
"I think we are in shock right now," she said. "To win the way we did, I'm just speechless."
Sinclair had a lot to say about that, scoring one goal -- off a 24-yard free kick in the 26th minute after Jonelle Filigno got things started with a header goal in the 12th minute.
"At the start of the game we knew we couldn't afford to go behind, especially in front of this crowd," Sinclair said. "That's why we started on fire."
Desiree Scott, who cried when the referee called the game, is aiming for some greater glory.
"We're going to the semis so we're one step closer," she said about the gold-medal match. "I think this is our time."
For central midfielder Jill Scott and her Great Britain teammates, it was a bitter finish to an otherwise sweet tournament.
"I am obviously disappointed," she said “it has been the best journey of my life. It has been fantastic. . . Unfortunately it was not meant to be."
Japan 2, Brazil 0
Yuki Ogimi scored in the first half and Shinobu Ohno in the second half to lead the Japanese over the South Americans at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales.
"The players did a very good job," Japan coach Norio Sasaki said. "They were very patient and controlled the game. It was our first time playing against Brazil at a major tournament and the players could have been fearful of them. But we knew their stamina would decline in the second half, so I told the players to get the ball forward quickly, and it worked."
Ogimi gave Japan all the scoring they needed in the 27th minute, when Mizuho Sakaguchi found Ogimi, who knocked the ball into the lower corner.
Ohno added an insurance tally in the 73rd minute.
"This was the best we have played in any of the four matches we have had at this Olympics," Marta said. "It all comes down to staying alert for the whole match. We lost concentration twice and it cost us two goals."
The Brazilians had their chances, including a Marta free kick that just went wide and Cristiane's header that sailed over the crossbar.
"It was not the result I was expecting, and nor was it fair," said Marta, five-time FIFA women's player of the year. "We played better than Japan."
For the Brazilians, it will be a four-year wait until the Rio Janeiro 2016 Summer Games.
"Of course we are sad because we wanted to go all the way," coach Jorge Barcellos said. "We will have to work a lot during the next four years before 2016 in Rio de Janeiro. We want to get the title there, because we have never had it before. There, would be perfect."
France 2, Sweden 1
After spotting the Swedes to a 1-0 lead, the French came back with two goals within a 10-minute span at at Hampden Park in Glasgow, Scotland. The French avenged a defeat to the Swedes in the WWC's third-place match last year.
"We played a creative match," France coach Bruno Bini said. "It was perfect. We didn't buckle against a really strong team."
Nilla Fischer had given Sweden an 18th-minute lead, but that the French pushed forward.
Laura Georges tied it in the 29th minute before Wendie Renard connected for the game-winner 10 minutes later.
French goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi was oustanding down the stretch, saving a head shot by Fischer in the 72nd minute.
"Sarah made a great save at just the right moment," Bini said. "That allowed us to continue into the semifinals. She made two stops that were incredible. A goalkeeper can lose you a match, but there are a very few that can win you a match."
Bini said he had to call retired French table tennis player Jean-Philippe Gatien because he said "that he would prepare all the beds if we made the Olympic Village. So for tomorrow he will have to prepare 35 beds. We just want to win the gold medal."
Michael Lewis, who has written about soccer for four decades, is the only journalist who has covered every MLS Cup. He can be reached at SoccerWriter516@aol.com or via Twitter at @soccerwriter.
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