Alex Morgan scores late goal to give U.S. women dramatic 4-3 overtime win over Canada

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MANCHESTER, England – Alex Morgan delivered a dramatic header in the 123rd minute – stoppage time of the second overtime period – to deliver the U.S. women's soccer team a 4-3 semifinal victory over Canada.

The Americans advance to Thursday’s gold-medal game with Japan, a rematch of a disappointing loss for the U.S. in the 2011 Women's World Cup final.

In a thrilling, back-and-forth battle at legendary Old Trafford stadium here, the U.S. needed three comebacks and extra time to defeat a tough, proud, and defiant Canadian team.

[ Photos: U.S. defeats Canada in Olympic semifinal ]

The winner came with the game just seconds from heading to penalty kicks. Veteran Heather O'Reilly got the ball on the right side and crossed it in front of the net, where Morgan leaped in a crowd and headed the ball over Canadian keeper Erin McLeod.

A pro-American crowd of about 15,000 at the home of Manchester United chanted "U-S-A, U-S-A" and waved American flags as Morgan was mobbed by her teammates.

The game officially ended about 20 seconds of play later, Morgan's goal proving to be about as much of a buzzer-beater as is possible in soccer.

It concluded an absolutely fabulous match between the two teams.

"I need to wrap my head around about what just happened," U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo said. "We tend to make things interesting. There is something to be said about always finding a way to win, finding a way to come back three times."

Said U.S. star forward Abby Wambach: "Moments like this are what make sports so cool."

The second half was played at a frenetic pace, featuring five goals and three U.S. comebacks. Canada's Christine Sinclair notched a hat trick and the three goals scored in regulation were the most against the Americans since May 2008.

[ Related: Canada coach takes issue with U.S. women's soccer marking ]

Five goals were scored in a 25-minute span, with the Americans making three separate comebacks. Megan Rapinoe scored on a bending corner kick in the 55th, then Sinclair headed one in the 68th for a 2-1 Canada lead. Rapinoe came back with a blast from 30 feet in the 71st minute, only to have another Sinclair header get past Hope Solo.

Then in the 80th minute, Abby Wambach tied it at 3-3 on a penalty kick after a controversial call against the Canadians.

McLeod was cited for holding the ball too long, giving the U.S. an indirect kick inside the box. The Americans drilled it into the Canadian defensive wall where it hit a hand, resulting in the penalty kick.

Afterward, Canada's anger wasn't focused on the handball call but the time-wasting ruling that led to the Americans' indirect kick.

"It's just devastating," Sinclair said. "We feel like we didn't lose. It's just a shame in a game so important a referee decided the result before it started."

"I'm satisfied with the way we won tonight," Wambach said.

Wambach's penalty – a shot into the low, left corner for her fifth goal in five tournament games – forced overtime.

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The United States dominated play early but mounted only a few serious scoring opportunities, and the tough Canadians played a physical style and jammed up passing lanes.

This was an emotional game for Canada, which for years has lagged behind its powerhouse neighbors to the south on the international stage. The Canadians targeted this semifinal game as an opportunity to show the world the growth of their program.

The U.S. will face Japan in a rematch of the 2011 Women’s World Cup final, a frustrating defeat for the Americans. The U.S. twice blew leads and then succumbed 3-1 in penalty kicks to be denied its third World Cup. The victory was Japan’s first in a major international tournament.

Now they meet up with gold on the line Thursday at 7:45 p.m. local time at Wembley Stadium back in London.

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