The U.S. women's soccer team handed a thrilling 4-3 defeat to Canada Monday to move into the medal round, the winning goal scored by Alex Morgan with just seconds left in extra time.
They'll go for a three-peat gold medal when they face Japan at 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday. The U.S. team has played in the title match in every Summer Games since women's soccer was introduced in Atlanta in 1996, winning the gold in 1996, 2004 and 2008 and the silver in 2000.
Morgan's goal -- a 6-yard header, on a kick from Heather O'Reilly -- was a thrilling end to one of the 2012 Games' most electrifying showdowns. The game moved fast and saw Megan Rapinoe of the U.S. and Canadian Christine Sinclair score five goals between them. But at no point were the Americans ahead until the end.
Things for Team USA started off well enough with the women in control, keeping the Canadian defense on its heels. But in the 23rd minute, Christine Sinclair punched one past U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo to give Canada a 1-0 lead in this elimination match.
Minutes later, Solo's quick reflexes were the only thing that kept Canada from doubling their lead, as she leapt forward to grab a header from Sophie Schmidt.
Despite scoring chances for each side, Canada would take their 1-0 lead into the locker room at half-time.
In the 54th minute, Rapinoe took her place for a corner kick, and fired off a textbook missile that sent one Canadian defender scampering for safety, another falling to her knees and the goalie standing there helpless as the ball wove its way into the net, tying the score 1-1.
With the score tied and time winding down, the play began to get progressively more physical, with bodies from both teams flailing to the ground. Desiree Scott of Canada picked up the game's first yellow card in the 60th minute.
But the match was quickly untied, as Sinclair scored her second goal of the game in the 67th minute, heading a shot into the back left corner, past the outstretched hands of Solo, to put Canada up 2-1.
Moments later, Rapinoe fired a shot from the back right corner of the box that clanged off the left post and into the opposite corner of the net for a 2-2 tie in the 70th minute.
But that tie would also end quickly, as Sinclair would bang home another header, in the 73rd minute, into the left corner past Solo.
Finally, in the 79th minute, Abby Wambach slammed home a penalty kick, awarded after a handball was called against Canada's Marie Eve-Nault, to tie the score.
The 85th minute saw the U.S. blow a chance to take their first lead of the game, as Alex Morgan had broken away down the left side of the field, and had a clear cross to Wambach. But Wambach appeared to lose her footing, and as she kicked the ball, it dribbled just wide of the right post and out of bounds.
"This has been the most thoughtful, well played U.S.-Canada game I've ever seen," said commentator Brandi Chastain as the teams headed into extra time. "Just outstanding."
In the first overtime period, Wambach just missed a chance early, as a header went wide, and Canada's Diana Matheson looked like she was about to make a run at the goal, but was tackled from behind, just outside the box.
With the stakes so incredibly high--win or go home--Canada showed remarkable sportsmanship when America's Rachel Buehler landed badly on her ankle. While her teammates played, the Canadians pulled up, given her the chance to get some attention and allow the U.S. to regroup.
Canada has now failed to win in their 27 games against the U.S., a streak that spans 11 years. Sinclair and Wambach are now tied at 143 goals apiece, second all-time in women's international play, behind Mia Hamm. But only Wambach will get another chance this week to close that gap.