U.S. Women's Soccer Team To Play For Gold Medal

The U.S. women's soccer team beat Canada in dramatic fashion Monday at the London Summer Olympics. Next, they seek revenge against Japan after a heartbreaking loss at last year's World Cup. The finals are Thursday in London.

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At the London Olympics, there's a lot of interest in a rematch coming up this Thursday, with a gold medal on the line. The U.S. women's soccer team will be playing Japan, a team that beat the Americans last year in a shoot-out at the end of the final match of the World Cup.

But first, the U.S. players had to get past Canada last night, and they did - barely, as NPR's Howard Berkes reports.

HOWARD BERKES, BYLINE: When the two teams walked onto the field at historic Old Trafford stadium in Manchester last night...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome the national teams of Canada and the United States of America.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

BERKES: ...Canada was clearly the underdog. In the last 11 years, in 26 games, Canada failed to beat the U.S. But the Canadian team includes Christine Sinclair, one of the top scorers ever, and she and her teammates didn't act second-best.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

BERKES: This was Canadian Sinclair's first goal of the night. She worked around two American defenders in front of the goal, then swept the ball past the outstretched body of keeper Hope Solo. That was 22 minutes into the game. A half-hour later, American Megan Rapinoe didn't bend it like Beckham. She wrapped it like Rapinoe, sending a corner kick halfway across the width of the field, the ball wrapping around the post of the goal without anyone else touching it.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

BERKES: That's what 36,000 people sound like when they tweet all at once: OMG, did you see that? And it continued like that: Sinclair again, Rapinoe again, Sinclair again. Then they let other players have fun. The game was tied after 90 minutes, and then after two hours. But with just 30 seconds to go in extra time, the ball flew toward the head of Team USA's Alex Morgan, and she butted it in the net. That gave the U.S. the 4-3 win. American Coach Pia Sundhage.

PIA SUNDHAGE: The team refuses to lose, and they always find a way to win. And if you look in their eyes, if you listen to Abby, there is something special, there is something where they have an extra gear.

BERKES: Abby is Abby Wambach, the star forward of the U.S. team, whose single goal of the game has her tied with Sinclair on the all-time scoring list.

ABBY WAMBACH: Moments like this are what make sports so cool, literally doing something that was unlikely, and everybody counted you out.

BERKES: The Canadians didn't quite see it that way, blaming the tying goal on a rare penalty. The referee called a violation of the six-second rule, in which a goalkeeper can't hold the ball for more than six seconds. Sundhage says she'd never seen the rule applied. Canadian coach John Herdman defends his goalie.

JOHN HERDMAN: It wasn't like she purposely tried to slow the game down, where you see goalkeepers really cheating. And the ref, for whatever reason - I don't know. She's got that to live with, and, you know, we'll move on from this. I wonder if she'll be able to.

BERKES: Team USA moves on to the gold medal match against Japan. It's a chance for redemption, given the World Cup loss last year in a tie-breaking shootout. Abby Wambach.

WAMBACH: All of us have dreamed about it. We've had nightmares about it, even, what happened last summer. This is an opportunity for us to - not even redemption, to prove ourselves, to let whatever happened last summer go and take the gold medal, because we believe that we've earned it.

BERKES: The gold medal match is Thursday in London.

Howard Berkes, NPR News, Manchester.

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