By Sean Hartnett
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Manchester United’s famous old ground, Old Trafford, has seen its share of dramatic moments. If its walls could talk, this 102-year-old jewel would have plenty of stories to tell.
It never hosted a women’s international match until this summer at the 2012 Olympics. For a stadium that had seen so many epic clashes, yesterday’s Olympic semifinal encounter between the United States’ Women’s National Team and Canada was befitting of stadium nicknamed the “Theatre of Dreams.”
The match had everything. End-to-end action, controversy, combativeness and raw emotion. Most of all, it had some incredible goals as the Americans and Canadians traded seven goals.
Canada’s captain and goal machine Christine Sinclair gave the Canadians three separate leads. She could not be contained by the American defense, as she netted a hat trick in sensational fashion.
Americans Pushed Past The Pain Barrier And Into The Final
The Americans’ spirit never wavered as they were forced to come back from three deficits before Alex Morgan’s headed effort in the 123rd minute booked their place into the Gold Medal Game. They dug deep time after time, clawing their way back into the game and never losing an ounce of belief as they battled through the pain barrier.
“The team refuses to lose,” American head coach Pia Sundhage said after her team’s 4-3 extra time victory. “There is something where they have an extra gear.”
Star striker Abby Wambach saw the belief in the eyes of her teammates.
“Even when they scored their third goal, there was something in me that knew that we had more, that we could give more,” Wambach said post-match.
Rapinoe Sparked The American’s Comeback
Megan Rapinoe was everywhere. Her skillful (but unintentional) corner kick delivery caused havoc in Canadian defense as it squeezed past keeper Erin McLeod to tie the match at 1-1. After Sinclair headed-in a second goal for the Canadians, Kelley O’Hara’s cross found Rapinoe who blasted a shot off the left post and into the net — drawing the match level at 2-2.
Rapinoe was on fire and providing the spark, ability and class with her expert crosses and wonderful technique.
After Sinclair completed her hat trick, the Americans were handed a slice of luck as Norweigian referee Christiana Pedersen called Canadian keeper McLeod for time wasting, which gave the Americans an indirect free kick in the box. Rapinoe fired a shot off the arm of Canadian defender Marie-Eve Nault and a penalty was awarded.
Wambach coolly slotted the penalty past McLeod to even the match at 3-3. She also delivered a stirring speech which inspired her teammates during extra time.
“I know I’ve said this before,” Wambach told her teammates. “But it really does just take one moment and one chance, one moment of brilliance for somebody to do something individually spectacular.”
Morgan Answers Her Critics
It was only fitting that Morgan went on to score the winning goal using her head. Morgan has been under fire by critics for not being particularly adept in the air. Also fittingly, Morgan is an avid Manchester United fan. She toured the stadium and picked up their latest home jersey after the team arrived in Manchester.
To score a winning goal at Old Trafford is something she probably never imagined would happen in her lifetime. Her dream had indeed come true at the “Theatre Of Dreams.”
She later posted on her official Twitter account: “wow thank you everyone for all the support!! So proud of this team it’s hard to even put into words… wow i love this team. #Speechless #fb.
Canadians Cry Foul
Canadian captain Christine Sinclair took exception to a number of contentious calls by officials during the match.
“It’s a shame that in a game like that, that’s so important, the ref decided the result before it started,” a frustrated Sinclair told reporters post-match.
Canada’s head coach, John Herdman echoed a similar belief.
“The ref, she will have to sleep in bed tonight after watching the replays,” Herdman said. “She’s gonna have to live with that. We will move on from this. I wonder if she will be able to.”
Herdman also accused the Amercians of “highly illegal”, overly-physical tactics inside the box on free kicks and corners.
The match itself was highly-contested with both teams playing a physical brand of soccer. Both teams had their chances and the Canadians played brilliantly, but came up short. Herdman comes off as an incredibly ungracious loser in my book.
Gold Medal Game Offers Chance Of Redemption For The Americans
The Americans will face Japan in the Gold Medal Game on Thursday (2:30 EST.) It will offer them the chance to avenge their 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final defeat to Japan.
It was a bitter loss for the Americans, who lost on penalties after both teams traded extra time goals. The aftertaste is still fresh in their minds of Team USA.
“This is redemption for us,” midfielder Carli Lloyd said on Monday. “We know how hard it was for us after that game. It hurt us for a really long time.”
If yesterday’s thrilling semifinal is anything to judge by, Thursday’s Gold Medal final at Wembley Stadium could be another classic.
How thrilling was the Americans’ last-gasp victory over Canada? Follow Sean on Twitter and pass along your comments to him at — @HartnettWFAN.