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United States are only step away from a third successive Gold Medal success in the Olympic Games after an Alex Morgan header 30 seconds from time gave them a dramatic 4-3 victory over Canada at Old Trafford.
However a pulsating clash already being called the "greatest women's football match of all time" will also be remembered for a controversial free kick which eventually led to a third equaliser for USA after Canada had led through a brilliant Christine Sinclair hat-trick.
USA started the game at a fast pace and sought an early goal whilst Canada looked a little nervous during the opening stages. However they settled down without giving away any clear opportunities and took the lead with their first meaningful attack. Marie-Eve Nault's pass was laid off by Melissa Tancredi into the path of Sinclair who neatly skipped past Kelley O'Hara before giving Hope Solo no chance with a firm finish.
Canada looked dangerous whenever going forward and Sophie Schmidt tested Solo with a header from Diane Matheson's cross. USA hit back through Abby Wambach whose downward header was well saved by Erin McLeod and Morgan glanced a Megan Rapinoe free kick just wide but Canada took their lead into the interval.
Clearly stung by their half time talk, USA came out at a fierce pace at the start of the second half and Canada found themselves on the back foot as the pressure intensified.
This pressure told in the 54th minute as Rapinoe took a corner on the left, her low inswinging kick getting past Sinclair and going through the legs of Lauren Sesselmann, crossing the line before McLeod was able to save.
Canada responded by bringing on Kaylyn Kyle and pushing Sinclair up front and this move was to pay instant dividends. A terrific passing move led to Tancredi clipping in a superb cross from the left for Sinclair to power an unstoppable header past Solo and restore her side's lead.
Canadian joy lasted barely three minutes though as the United States came up with a stunning reply of their own. There seemed no imminent danger as the ball rolled across the edge of the area towards Rapinoe but the winger unleashed a bullet shot which cannoned in via the far post.
The pace of the game just got faster and faster; the outstanding Rapinoe and the pacey Morgan a constant threat for the USA whilst Canada were playing some delightful passing football with Sinclair - dubbed "the best player in the world" by her manager John Herdman - doing everything to live up to that billing.
This showed up even more after Canada won a corner on the left. Schmidt swung the ball in and Sinclair rose highest to find the corner of the net with a towering header to complete her hat-trick.
It looked as though it was going to be Canada's night but their delight turned to anger five minutes later. Shortly after appeals for a penalty were turned down after Rapinoe appeared to handle in the area, McLeod was penalised for holding on to the ball too long, a decision which looked incredibly harsh and awarded to the amazement of both sets of players. The resulting free kick was tapped aside to Rapinoe whose shot was charged down at point blank range by Nault, deemed to be handball by the Norwegian referee who showed amazing speed at getting to her whistle and awarding a penalty.
Vehement Canadian protests were waved away and after a delay, Wambach showed extreme coolness to find the corner of the net and the scores were level once again.
Both teams drove hard for the winner but neither could find a breakthrough, Canada going closest when Schmidt's persistence saw her win the ball on the edge of the area but her angled shot was blocked by the legs of Solo.
Incredibly, the pace of the game still did not drop during extra time as both sides showed intent only for attack. Canada worked harder and harder with the tireless Schmidt covering virtually every blade of grass, Desiree Scott hurling herself into tackles and blocking shots while central defenders Sesselmann and Carmelina Moscato having fine matches.
USA for their part continued to attack down the flanks through Rapinoe and Tobin Heath whilst the introduction of Heather O'Reilly on the right gave extra impetus in that area.
Still both teams attacked constantly and it looked as though USA had passed up their best chance as Morgan sped into the area and crossed low for Wambach who slid in but poked the ball wide with the goal at her mercy. The same duo then combined again with Wambach's header coming back off the bar but with penalties looming, the match had a sting in its tail and the Americans came up with a killer blow in the third minute of injury time.
Wambach spread the ball out wide to O'Reilly who whipped in a tremendous cross to Morgan to head over the outstretched hand of McLeod and under the bar to send her side in front for the first time in the match.
There was no time for any reply and joyous USA celebrations began seconds later while the Canadians stood stunned and disbelieving, having played so well but ending up on the losing side.
United States now face Japan at Wembley in a repeat of last year's World Cup Final while Canada have to play France to try and win a bronze medal which nobody at the match would begrudge them.
United States: Hope Solo, Amy Le Peilbet (sub Sydney Leroux 76mins), Christie Rampone, Rachel Buehler (sub Becky Sauerbrunn 110mins), Kelley O'Hara, Lauren Cheney (sub Heather O'Reilly 101mins), Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach, Carli Lloyd, Tobin Heath. Subs not used: Heather Mitts, Shannon Boxx, Amy Rodriguez, Nicole Barnhart.
Canada: Erin McLeod, Rhian Wilkinson, Marie-Eve Nault (sub Chelsea Stewart 101mins), Sophie Schmidt, Lauren Sesselmann, Carmelina Moscato, Melissa Tancredi, Diane Matheson, Christine Sinclair, Jonelle Filigno (sub Kaylyn Kyle 67mins), Desiree Scott. Subs not used: Karina Leblanc, Candace Chapman, Kelly Parker, Brittany Timko, Melanie Booth.
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