U.S. Women Advance To Finals In Olympic Soccer

The U.S. women's soccer team defeated longtime rival Canada Monday in a close Olympic semi-final match 4-3 in overtime. They will face Japan in the gold medal match on Thursday. Host Audie Cornish talks with NPR's Howard Berkes about the game.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Now to the Olympics and an epic battle today in women's soccer. The U.S. faced off against Canada. And going into the game, the Americans had dominated Canada for years, but today, they fought all the way into overtime, tied 3-3. Just as time was running out, the U.S. scored to win the game. NPR's Howard Berkes was at the match in Manchester, England, and joins us now. Hi there, Howard.

HOWARD BERKES, BYLINE: Hi there.

CORNISH: So it sounds like an incredible game, and going into it, Canada was supposed to be the underdog, right?

BERKES: This was a real nail-biter of a game, and Canada did not look like an underdog. But Canada has not beaten the U.S. in 11 years, 26 games. You have to go back to 2001 before you can find a game in which Canada beat the U.S. So absolutely, Canada was the underdog, but Canada has Christine Sinclair, who's one of the best scorers in the history of women's soccer, and she performed tonight.

CORNISH: Now, before we get into that game-winning goal, tell us some of the other highlights of the game.

BERKES: Well, Christine Sinclair, for Canada, scored the first goal of the game and she - and a dramatic score. She worked past two American defenders and swept the ball in over the outstretched body of Hope Solo. And then the U.S. answered with a score by Megan Rapinoe from a corner kick that just went right into the goal at the post and where Sinclair actually should had been. She wasn't at the spot she should have been, and the ball went - sort of snuck in at that point, didn't even hit another player before it went in and sort of bounced back and forth.

We had, I think, there were like three goals within 25 minutes, but the U.S. kept hanging on. Canada kept scoring. The U.S. hung on. And the most dramatic goal was, of course, the one in the final 30 seconds of the game, 30 seconds to go in overtime, in extra time, actually. And Alex Morgan, the ball came to her. It bounced off her head, went into the goal, and Canada was not able to answer that in the 30 seconds that was left - the U.S. wins.

CORNISH: Now, this win for the U.S. sets up a pretty intense gold-medal matchup later this week, right? I mean, the U.S. plays Japan, which beat France earlier today. So explain the significance of this upcoming game.

BERKES: Well, just last year or rather in 2011 in the World Cup, Japan beat the United States in the final moments of that game, in a shootout, actually, at the end of that game, a heartbreaking loss for the United States. And so this now sets up, you know, a grudge match, basically, a chance for the United States to get revenge for that loss. And, you know, Team USA is really motivated for this game. There was some concern that they wouldn't have been really prepared for the game today with Canada because they were thinking ahead, you know, to Japan.

So now, we have a very exciting gold-medal match. And Pia Sundhage, after the game tonight, said, you know, this team refuses to lose. They always find a way to win. That's their gift. That's what they're going to need to beat Japan on Thursday night. We'll be watching.

CORNISH: NPR's Howard Berkes speaking with us from Manchester, England, where today the U.S. women's soccer team beat Canada to advance to the gold-medal match on Thursday. Howard, thank you.

BERKES: You're welcome.

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