MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 06: Team USA celebrates after they defeated Canada 4-3 in extra time during the Women's Football Semi Final match between Canada and USA, on Day 10 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Old Trafford on August 6, 2012 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Stanley Chou/Getty Images)2012 Getty Images
MANCHESTER – The U.S. women got their wish and probably many more soccer fans got theirs as well.
The 2012 Olympic women's soccer tournament will be a rematch of last year's Women's World Cup.
Following their wild 4-3 victory over North American rival Canada at Old Trafford Monday night, the U.S. will take on Japan for the gold medal.
Japan, which edged out the Americans in last year's WWC final, booked a spot in this year's championship game behind a solid 2-1 win over France at Wembley Stadium.
The winners will meet at Wembley for the gold medal match on Thursday, while France and Canada will tussle for the bronze in Coventry the same day.
The Americans, who qualified for their fifth Olympic final in as many tries, will attempt to win their fourth gold medal while the Japanese will try to become the first team to win the Women's World Cup and Olympic crown in back-to-back years.
If the gold medal game is half as good as Monday's encounter between the North American rivals, it should be one doozy of a final.
In fact, the U.S.-Canada confrontation turned into a game for the ages, so much transpired.
Where do you begin?
First of all, striker Christine Sinclair reminded people why she is the best all-around player on the planet with a scintillating performance that was punctuated by a hat-trick.
The Americans, however, would not die. Every time Sinclair would find the back of the net, the U.S. would counter with an equalizing strike, until Alex Morgan broke a 3-3 deadlock three minutes into extratime.
Add the fact two controversial calls within a couple of minutes of one another by referee Christiana Pedersen of Norway changed the course of the match as well.
"We are unwilling to give up and that says a lot about who we are as a team," said U.S. striker Abby Wambach, whose 80th-minute penalty kick was set up by the two calls. "Even when Canada scored their third goal there was something in me that knew that we had more, that we could give more. This team has belief in itself, even when the going gets tough."
As U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo started to prepare for the dreaded penalty-kick shootout, her teammates had some other things on their minds at the other end of the field -- not playing in the tie-breaker.
Two teammates took care of that as Heather O'Reilly sent a right-wing cross into the area that Morgan headed over goalkeeper Erin McLeod about 30 seconds before Pedersen whistled the end to the wild affair.
"I remember being in shock wanting to laugh and cry at the same time and just being so proud of the team for coming back so many times and sticking in it and coming out on top at the end.”
"I’ve never wanted to cry on a field after scoring a goal. It was the best feeling ever.”
The Canadians were doing plenty of crying, especially crying foul on two late controversial plays that turned the game toward to the United States.
"We feel like we got robbed in this game," Canada goalkeeper Erin McLeod said. "The referee was very one-sided."
Added Sinclair: "We feel like we didn't lose. We feel like it was taken from us. It's a shame in a game like that, which is so important that the ref decided the result before the game started."
They were referring to events that led to the U.S.'s third goal in the 80th minute. McLeod had been called for holding the ball for more than six seconds by referee Christiana Pedersen (Norway), resulting in a U.S. indirect free kick.
McLeod said the referee claimed she had the ball for 10 seconds. "She obviously counted the time when I was on the ground with the ball," she said.
"There was a warning from the linesman at the start of the second half. She said 'Don't delay the play too much' but it wasn't like a real warning. I have never known this to happen in a game before. It was an interesting decision. Referees never make this kind of decision."
But this time one did.
"Go and watch the replay of that decision," Canada coach John Herdman said. "That'll be replaying for the next 10 years in Canadian history."
U.S. midfielder Megan Rapinoe, who scored twice, blasted the ensuing indirect free kick into the defensive wall and off the arm of Marie-Eve Nault, which resulted in a penalty kick.
"She [the referee] actually giggled and said nothing, Classy!" Sinclair said. "In an important match it's a disappointment that the referee had such an impact on it. We feel cheated."
Wambach sent her kick into the lower left corner for a 3-3 deadlock, scoring for the fifth consecutive match and tying her with Sinclair for second place on the all-time scoring list with 143 goals apiece behind Mia Hamm (158).
Every time Sinclair gave the Canadians the lead, the U.S. would tie it.
Sinclair struck first, beating defenders Rachel Buehler and Kelley O'Hara in the 22nd minute, but Rapinoe retaliated with what is called an Olympic goal -- scoring directly off a corner kick in the 54th minute. Again Sinclair gave Canada the lead with a header in the 67th minute and again Rapinoe equalized, firing a 17-yard shot off the left post three minutes later. Sinclair completed her hat-trick with an eight-yard header in the 73rd minute before the controversial equalizer and Morgan's game-winner.
In contrast, Japan's win over France had no such controversies.
Yuki Ogimi took advantage of goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi's howler as she allowed the shot to go through her hands and into the goal, which lifted the Asian side into a 1-0 lead in the 32nd minute. Japan doubled its advantage in the 49th minute on Mizuho Sakaguchi's header.
But France pulled within one as substitute Eugenie Le Sommer scored on a half-volley in the 76th minute.
Two minutes later, the French could have taken the lead when Le Sommer was pulled down in the penalty area, but Elise Bussaglia fired her attempt wide.
France threw just about everything but the kitchen sink at Japan, but could not level the match.
"I think my players played their best and showed their effort," Japan coach Norio Sasaki said. "Since 2008 we have had an objective to win a medal at the Olympics, and the attitude of the players to win this game was strong. The mental part makes the difference at this stage."
For the second consecutive time, the French fell in the semifinal of a major international tournament. They were eliminated by the U.S. in last year's WWC.
"We were not good enough to take the team through again," French coach Bruno Bini said. "Maybe I will pass the team on to someone else if we reach another semifinal.
"Today was even more disappointing than the World Cup. In the last 20 minutes we played very well and were even better than Japan. They barely reached our side of the pitch."
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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