MANCHESTER, England (AP) - The U.S. women's soccer team has another come-from-behind, last-minute thriller to add to its legacy. The Americans won't have much time to celebrate it: It's time to focus on winning it all.
This is the moment the U.S. players have been eyeing for more than a year, a rematch with Japan on Thursday at Wembley Stadium with gold on the line. The top-ranked Americans lost to Japan on penalty kicks in the World Cup final last summer, a stunning blow that became a source of motivation as the players prepared for the Olympics.
"This is redemption for us," midfielder Carli Lloyd said. "We know how hard it was for us after that game. It hurt us for a really long time."
The U.S. team was ten minutes away from another devastating loss in the Olympic semifinals Monday night when it caught a break. Canada goalkeeper Erin McLeod was whistled for holding the ball too long, a violation often committed but rarely enforced. The dominoes fell in quick succession: an indirect kick, a hand ball, a penalty kick. Score tied.
"We feel like it was taken away from us," Canada forward Christine Sinclair said. "It's a shame in a game like that, which is so important, that the ref decided the result before the game started."
The Americans then put together a final winning surge. In the third and final minute of injury time that had been added on to extra time - with goalkeeper Hope Solo mentally preparing for a penalty kick shootout - Alex Morgan looped in a 6-yard header on a long cross from Heather O'Reilly, giving the U.S. a 4-3 win in the Olympic semifinals at Old Trafford.
"I don't have much to say because I need to wrap my head around what just happened," Solo said. "And that's the truth of the matter. We tend to keep things interesting."
Canada, seeking the country's first Summer Games medal in a traditional team sport since 1936, will play France for the bronze on Thursday at Coventry, but it will take a while to get over this one. Canada's coach felt cheated, and lashed out with criticism of Norwegian referee Christiana Pedersen.
"The ref, she will have to sleep in bed tonight after watching the replays," said Canada coach John Herdman, who also felt that Pedersen missed a hand ball in front of the U.S. goal. "She's gonna have to live with that. We will move on from this. I wonder if she will be able to."
Pedersen cited McLeod was for holding the ball more than six seconds. McLeod said she did not receive the customary warning from the referee beforehand, although she did say the linesman had told her at the start of the second half not to slow down play.
The violation gave the Americans an indirect free kick inside the area. Rapinoe took the kick and rammed it into the Canadian wall, the ball glancing off the arm of Marie-Eve Nault. Pedersen then awarded the U.S. a penalty kick, which co-captain Abby Wambach converted off the left post.