Morgan Plays Hero as Team USA Prevail in Semifinal Thriller Against Canada
Old Trafford has seen its share of dramatic finishes, but none more electrifying than the moment Alex Morgan rose to head home an extra-time winner for the United States against Canada—sending one team into the Olympic final, the other into floods of tears.
It was the culmination of a quite extraordinary semifinal in Manchester. A breathtaking, bruising and brilliant encounter that represented the best match we've seen in both the men's and women's tournaments at these London Games.
Canada entered the tie as underdogs. They came having not beaten the U.S. in their last 26 attempts. Most expected a run that stretched back to 2001 to be extended as Team USA continued on its inexorable path to glory. But if that was the script, then Canada didn't bother to read it.
John Herdman's team came with fire in their bellies. They barged into the U.S. head on, worked ferociously and, for long periods, managed to subdue the most potent attack in the women's game.
Abby Wambach and Morgan had their moments, but this was the quietest we've seen them at the tournament. For that, Canada deserve enormous credit. The midfield was a maple-leaf-strewn playground, and by blocking the supply lines to Wambach and Morgan, Canada diluted the U.S. threat for long periods.
Christine Sinclair had no such problems. Canada's iconic striker put in one of most complete forward performances you're likely to see. She can count herself extremely unfortunate to have ended up on the losing side.
Sinclair ghosted past a tackle to beat Hope Solo and put Canada ahead on 22 minutes. Megan Rapinoe responded with a soft goal straight from a corner early in the second half, but Sinclair's fine header redressed the balance soon after.
Over to Rapinoe. The U.S. winger arguably has been their most effective player at the Olympics, and it was barely a surprise to see her whipped, Beckham-esque finish find the net to level things at 2-2 in the 70th minute. Fancy that, a Beckham-esque moment in the stadium that made his name.
Surely that was the end of the Canadian resistance. Surely we were now locked on for the inevitable U.S. show of power and drive to the finish line. Things were ever thus, surely.
Not if Sinclair had anything to do with it. The 29-year-old by now had moved past Wambach's total of international goals and still had another to give. Another chance, another perfectly executed header and, unbelievably, Canada were back in front.
Then came the moment that belongs in all classic matches—one of controversy. With 10 minutes left to salvage their Olympic dream, the U.S. claimed a handball after a rapid pinball exchange inside the box. The referee saw enough to point to the spot, and Wambach did what was expected of her. It was a harsh call, but by the letter of the law, you could justify it.
Into extra time we went, and with both sides surely contemplating the dreaded possibility of a penalty shootout, the tension grew by the minute. Tackles flew in, cards came out. This was a proper, no-holds-barred sporting scrap. It was as vital as any football match—men's or women's—could hope to be.
By now the players were exhausted and starting to make mistakes. Wambach hit the bar, but penalties loomed large, and we appeared set for a test of nerves never before seen in an Olympic women's tournament.
Penalties are a lottery, so they say, and maybe the U.S. were more afraid of buying a ticket than the Canadians. Maybe they felt they had more to lose.
With the clock into its final minute of the added 30, Heather O'Reilly skipped down the right and sent over a cross. Morgan jumped early and jumped high. She met the ball sweetly and, with one contact, undid 120 minutes of defensive grind from the Canadians, who'd been policing her all evening.
Morgan's moment had been two hours coming. The fact she was still sharp and alert enough to make the run, let alone make the header, speaks volumes for her enormous potential. They might call her "Baby Horse," but this was the contribution of a thoroughbred stallion down the finishing straight.
And with that, the U.S. were left to whoop and holler, as the Canadians dropped to their knees in sporting agony.
For one team, a shot at golden redemption against a Japan side who beat them in the World Cup final. For the other, a night that so nearly threw up one of the great Olympic shocks ends with an invitation to play for bronze in Coventry.
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