Japan and the US made it through the semi-finals of the women’s Olympic soccer tournament on Monday, setting up a rematch of the World Cup final won by Japan just a year ago.
Japan beat France 2-1 in London and the US defeated Canada 4-3 in extra-time in a thrilling match at Old Trafford in Manchester, England.
The US will be going for revenge and their third straight gold medal. Japan will be playing in their first Olympic final to try to show that their World Cup win was not a fluke.
Japan opened a two-goal lead against France and then held on for the victory, surviving a missed penalty kick by France in the final minutes.
The US came from behind three times to send the match against Canada into extra-time, then got a stoppage-time winner from Alex Morgan to advance. She headed the ball into the net after a cross by Heather O’Reilly as time was about to expire, putting the US in the final for the fifth straight time.
“This team refuses to lose and always finds a way to win,” US coach Pia Sundhage said. “There is something special about this team.”
Christine Sinclair scored for Canada in the 22nd, 67th and 73rd minutes, but the US rallied with goals by Megan Rapinoe in the 54th and 70th minutes, and by Abby Wambach from a penalty-kick in the 80th.
“If I’m sitting in the stands watching this game and not rooting for any team, it’s fantastic, it’s entertaining,” Sundhage said.
The US have played in the final in every Games since women’s soccer was introduced in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1996.
Canada were trying to secure their first top-three finish at an Olympics or World Cup. They were also trying to end a 26-match winless streak against the US. They had been eliminated by the US in extra-time in the quarter-finals in Beijing four years ago.
Canada coach John Herdman loudly complained about the refereeing of Christiana Pedersen of Norway, especially when the penalty was awarded to the US. He did not think it was a hand ball and was in awe that Pedersen awarded an indirect free-kick against goalkeeper Erin McLeod for holding the ball inside the area for more than six seconds. The indirect kick led to the hand ball.
“Two bizarre decisions. I’ve never seen a decision like that given. An indirect free-kick without a real warning or a yellow card, just a bit random, and then the handball when something just gets blasted at you,” Herdman said.
Japan reached their first Olympic final with the win over France at Wembley. Their best result so far had been a fourth-place finish in 2008 in Beijing, when they lost to the US in the semi-finals.
“Since 2008, we have had an objective to win a medal at the Olympics,” Japan coach Norio Sasaki said. “The attitude of the players to win this game was strong. The mental part makes the difference at this stage.”
It was the first time Japan had entered a tournament as one of the main title favorites following their World Cup triumph in Germany last year. They had eliminated Brazil, silver medalists in the last two Olympics, to make it to the semi-finals in London.
Japan looked set for a comfortable win over France after goals by striker Yuki Ogimi in the 32nd minute and Mizuho Sakaguchi in the 49th. France pulled one back through substitute Eugenie le Sommer in the 75th minute and they had a chance to equalize from the penalty spot just a minute later, but midfielder Elise Bussaglia rolled her spot-kick wide of the right post.