MANCHESTER, England — On the verge of missing the gold-medal game for the first time, the U.S. women's soccer team caught a break when the referee made a call rarely seen in the sport.

Then the Americans put together a final winning surge, inspired by the familiar – a pep talk from co-captain Abby Wambach.

"I know I've said this before," she said she told her teammates during extra time. "But it really does just take one moment and one chance, one moment of brilliance for somebody to do something individually spectacular."

The moment came beyond the 90 minutes of regular time, beyond the scheduled 30 minutes of extra time. In the third and final minute of injury time, with goalkeeper Hope Solo already preparing for a penalty kick shootout, Alex Morgan looped in a 6-yard header on a long cross from Heather O'Reilly, giving the U.S. a 4-3 win over Canada in the Olympic semifinals at Old Trafford.

"I don't have much to say because I need to wrap my head around what just happened," Solo said. "And that's the truth of the matter. We tend to keep things interesting."

Next comes the game the U.S. players have been eyeing for more than a year, a rematch with Japan on Thursday at Wembley Stadium with gold on the line. The top-ranked Americans lost to Japan on penalty kicks in the World Cup final last summer, a stunning blow that became a source of motivation as the players prepared for the London Olympics.

"This is redemption for us," midfielder Carli Lloyd said. "We know how hard it was for us after that game. It hurt us for a really long time."

The Americans overcame three one-goal deficits, all due to Christine Sinclair goals in the 22nd, 67th and 73rd minutes. Megan Rapinoe scored in the 54th and 70th minutes, and Wambach in the 80th for the U.S., leaving Sinclair and Wambach tied at No. 2 with 143 international goals apiece, both chasing Mia Hamm's world record of 158.

It was the sequence that led to Wambach's tying goal that left the Canadians fuming. It started when goalkeeper Erin McLeod was whistled for holding the ball more than six seconds, a call even U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said she had never seen before.

That gave the Americans an indirect free kick inside the area. Rapinoe took the kick and rammed it into the Canadian wall, the ball glancing off the arm of Marie-Eve Nault. Referee Christiana Pedersen of Norway then awarded the U.S. a penalty kick, which Wambach converted off the left post.

McLeod said she did not receive the usual warning from the referee about holding the ball too long, although she said the linesman had told her at the start of the second half not to slow down play.

"I think the referee was very one-sided," McLeod said. "It was an interesting sequence of events. I think we outplayed the Americans the entire game. I think it's unfortunate the calls went the way that they did. Of course, the Americans are a great soccer team, and today we were better, and the luck went their way."

Canada coach John Herdman said he felt the referee also missed a hand ball in front of the U.S. goal.

"The ref, she will have to sleep in bed tonight after watching the replays," Herdman said. "She's gonna have to live with that. We will move on from this. I wonder if she will be able to."

Canada, seeking the country's first Summer Games medal in a traditional team sport since 1936, will play France for the bronze on Thursday at Coventry.

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.

But in many ways this win was reminiscent of the landmark comeback victory against Brazil in last year's World Cup, when Wambach willed the team to a shootout win in the quarterfinals.

With that kind of history, she knew her teammates could rally against the Canadians.

"Even when they scored their third goal, there was something in me that knew that we had more, that we could give more," Wambach said.

The result maintains the Americans' dominance of their neighbor to the north, extending their unbeaten streak against Canada to 27 games (23-0-4). The U.S. leads the series 44-3-5, the last loss coming at the Algarve Cup in 2001.

Herdman said before the game that the run of futility against the Americans was on the minds of his players, and he addressed it with them in the run-up to the match. He also injected some pregame intrigue by accusing the Americans of using "highly illegal," overly physical tactics on free kicks and corner kicks.

"Their coach prepared them very well," Wambach said. "He had a very good tactic yesterday, by making it a media (event) to say that we do illegal stuff. I give him credit for that because it's something that he was trying to do to rally his team around him."

Certainly, Herdman's team gave one of its most spirited efforts on the biggest stage ever for a game between the rivals, scoring the most goals the U.S. has allowed since a 5-4 win over Australia in May 2008.

The Americans dominated possession in the early minutes, but then the U.S. defense did the unexplainable – it lost track of one of the best scorers in the game.

Taking a pass from Melissa Tancredi, Sinclair slalomed through the penalty area to beat Solo with a simple right-footer from 10 yards.

It was the first goal allowed by the U.S. in more than 360 minutes, since a pair of early scores by France in the Olympic opener two weeks ago. The U.S. also trailed at halftime for the first time in the tournament.

The Americans found an unconventional way to pull even early in the second half, with Rapinoe scoring directly on a corner kick. She curled the ball just inside the near post, glancing off the legs of defender Lauren Sesselmann and McLeod as it settled in the net.

Then came a dizzying sequence of three goals in six minutes. The Tancredi-Sinclair combo worked again, with Sinclair heading Tancredi's cross just inside the post to put Canada in front. Three minutes later, Rapinoe got her second, launching a right-footer from the edge of the area.

Then it was Sinclair again, leaping high to head in a corner kick, again just inside the post.

Wambach tied it with the controversial penalty kick, and the game became a battle of attrition in extra time, with the Americans having the better of the chances. Wambach put a header off the crossbar in the 119th minute.

The officials then declared there would be three minutes of injury time, just enough for Morgan to put one in and avoid the penalty kick shootout no one wanted to see.

"The team refuses to lose," Sundhage said. "There is something where they have an extra gear."

___

Joseph White can be reached at http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP

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  • U.S. Women's Soccer Defeats Canada In Semis

    The United States' Heather O'Reilly, center right, and her teammate Christie Rampone, right, celebrate their win against Canada during their semi final women's soccer match between the USA and Canada at the 2012 London Summer Olympics, in Manchester, England, Monday, Aug. 6, 2012.

  • U.S. Women's Soccer Defeats Canada In Semis

    United States' Lauren Cheney, left, battles for the ball against Canada's Desiree Scott, right, during their semifinal women's soccer match between the USA and Canada at the 2012 London Summer Olympics, in Manchester, England, Monday, Aug. 6, 2012.

  • U.S. Women's Soccer Defeats Canada In Semis

    United States's forward Lauren Cheney (c) is tackled by Canada's forward Christine Sinclair (2nd R) during the London 2012 Olympic women's football semi final match between USA and Canada at Old Trafford in Manchester, north-west England, on August 6, 2012.

  • U.S. Women's Soccer Defeats Canada In Semis

    United States's forward Lauren Cheney (L) is tackled by Canada's forward Christine Sinclair (R) during the London 2012 Olympic women's football semi final match between USA and Canada at Old Trafford in Manchester, north-west England, on August 6, 2012.

  • U.S. Women's Soccer Defeats Canada In Semis

    United States's forward Lauren Cheney (L) is tackled by Canada's midfielder Desiree Scott (R) during the London 2012 Olympic women's football semi final match between USA and Canada at Old Trafford in Manchester, north-west England, on August 6, 2012.

  • U.S. Women's Soccer Defeats Canada In Semis

    Canada's defender Carmelina Moscato and US forward Abby Wambach compete during the London 2012 Olympic women's football semi final match between the US and Canada at Old Trafford in Manchester, north-west England, on August 6, 2012.

  • U.S. Women's Soccer Defeats Canada In Semis

    Norweigan referee Christiana Pedersen motions during the London 2012 Olympic women's football semi final match between the US and Canada at Old Trafford in Manchester, north-west England, on August 6, 2012.

  • U.S. Women's Soccer Defeats Canada In Semis

    United States' goalkeeper Hope Solo, center left, fails to stop a goal from Canada's Christine Sinclair, right during their semifinal women's soccer match in the 2012 Summer Olympics, Monday, Aug. 6, 2012, at Old Trafford in Manchester, England.

  • U.S. Women's Soccer Defeats Canada In Semis

    United States' goalkeeper Hope Solo fails to stop a goal from Canada's Christine Sinclair, not pictured, during their semifinal women's soccer match at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Monday, Aug. 6, 2012, at Old Trafford in Manchester, England.

  • U.S. Women's Soccer Defeats Canada In Semis

    Canada's forward Christine Sinclair celebrates scoring during the London 2012 Olympic women's football semi final match between USA and Canada at Old Trafford in Manchester, north-west England, on August 6, 2012.

  • U.S. Women's Soccer Defeats Canada In Semis

    Canada's forward Christine Sinclair (L) celebrates scoring during the London 2012 Olympic women's football semi final match between the US and Canada at Old Trafford in Manchester, north-west England, on August 6, 2012.

  • U.S. Women's Soccer Defeats Canada In Semis

    United States' Amy Le Peilbet, left, Canada's Melissa Tancredi, center, and United States' Megan Rapinoe, right, all try to head the ball during a semifinal women's soccer match at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Monday, Aug. 6, 2012, at Old Trafford in Manchester, England. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

  • U.S. Women's Soccer Defeats Canada In Semis

    United States' Megan Rapinoe, top, is tackled by Canada's Diana Matheson during their semifinal women's soccer match at the 2012 London Summer Olympics, Monday, Aug. 6, 2012 at Old Trafford Stadium in Manchester, England.

  • U.S. Women's Soccer Defeats Canada In Semis

  • U.S. Women's Soccer Defeats Canada In Semis

    United States' Megan Rapinoe celebrates her goal during a semifinal women's soccer match between the United States and Canada at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Monday, Aug. 6, 2012, at Old Trafford in Manchester, England.

  • U.S. Women's Soccer Defeats Canada In Semis

    United States' Megan Rapinoe celebrates after scoring against Canada during their semifinal women's soccer match at the 2012 London Summer Olympics, Monday, Aug. 6, 2012, at Old Trafford Stadium in Manchester, England.

  • U.S. Women's Soccer Defeats Canada In Semis

    Canada's head coach John Herdman of Britain, left, reacts next to Canada's Christine Sinclair, after his team scored the third goal during their semifinal women's soccer match against the United States at the 2012 London Summer Olympics, in Manchester, England, Monday, Aug. 6, 2012.

  • U.S. Women's Soccer Defeats Canada In Semis

    Canada's captain Christine Sinclair, centre, scores her third goal against the United States during their semfinal women's soccer match at the 2012 London Summer Olympics, Monday, Aug. 6, 2012 at Old Trafford Stadium in Manchester, England.

  • U.S. Women's Soccer Defeats Canada In Semis

    Canada's Christine Sinclair, centre, celebrates with teammates including Melissa Tancredi, right, after scoring her second goal against the United States during their semifinal women's soccer match at the 2012 London Summer Olympics, Monday, Aug. 6, 2012 at Old Trafford Stadium in Manchester, England.

  • U.S. Women's Soccer Defeats Canada In Semis

  • U.S. Women's Soccer Defeats Canada In Semis

    The United States' Abby Wambach, center, scores a penalty against Canada during their semifinal women's soccer match at the 2012 London Summer Olympics, Monday, Aug. 6, 2012 at Old Trafford Stadium in Manchester, England.

  • U.S. Women's Soccer Defeats Canada In Semis

    Canada's goalkeeper Erin Mcleod, right, fails to stop a successful penalty kick by United States' Abby Wambach, not seen, during their semifinal women's soccer match between the USA and Canada at the 2012 London Summer Olympics, in Manchester, England, Monday, Aug. 6, 2012.

  • U.S. Women's Soccer Defeats Canada In Semis

    The United States' Abby Wambach, second left, celebrates after scoring a penalty against Canada as teammate Carli Lloyd, far right, looks on during their semifinal women's soccer match at the 2012 London Summer Olympics, Monday, Aug. 6, 2012 at Old Trafford Stadium in Manchester, England. (

  • U.S. Women's Soccer Defeats Canada In Semis

    The United States' Abby Wambach, celebrates after she scored her penalty goal during the semifinal women's soccer match between the USA and Canada at the 2012 London Summer Olympics, in Manchester, England, Monday, Aug. 6, 2012.

  • U.S. Women's Soccer Defeats Canada In Semis

    United States' Alex Morgan, right, scores the winning goal against Canada during their semifinal women's soccer match at the 2012 London Summer Olympics, Monday, Aug. 6, 2012 at Old Trafford Stadium in Manchester, England.

  • U.S. Women's Soccer Defeats Canada In Semis

    US footballers celebrate scoring the winning goal during injury time of extra time during the London 2012 Olympic women's football semi final match between USA and Canada at Old Trafford in Manchester, north-west England, on August 6, 2012. US won 4-3.

  • U.S. Women's Soccer Defeats Canada In Semis

    US footballers celebrate scoring the winning goal during injury time of extra time during the London 2012 Olympic women's football semi final match between USA and Canada at Old Trafford in Manchester, north-west England, on August 6, 2012. USA won 4-3.

  • U.S. Women's Soccer Defeats Canada In Semis

    United States' Abby Wambach, right, celebrates her team's final goal,while Canada's Desiree Scott, left, stands dejected in the semifinal women's soccer match between the USA and Canada in the 2012 Summer Olympics, Monday, Aug. 6, 2012, at Old Trafford in Manchester, England.

  • U.S. Women's Soccer Defeats Canada In Semis

    Diana Matheson of Canada in dejection with her team-mates after the final whistle during the Women's Football Semi Final match between Canada and USA, on Day 10 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Old Trafford on August 6, 2012 in Manchester, England.

  • U.S. Women's Soccer Defeats Canada In Semis

    Alex Morgan of the United States celebrates with her team-mates after scoring the winning goal in extra time during the Women's Football Semi Final match between Canada and USA, on Day 10 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Old Trafford on August 6, 2012 in Manchester, England.

  • U.S. Women's Soccer Defeats Canada In Semis

  • U.S. Women's Soccer Defeats Canada In Semis

    Alex Morgan of of the United States celebrates after scoring during the Women's Football Semi Final match between Canada and USA, on Day 10 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Old Trafford on August 6, 2012 in Manchester, England.

  • U.S. Women's Soccer Defeats Canada In Semis

    United States goalkeeper Hope Solo reacts after her team's semfinal 4-3 win over Canada in the women's soccer match at the 2012 London Summer Olympics, Monday, Aug. 6, 2012 at Old Trafford Stadium in Manchester, England.

  • Sophie Schmidt, Melissa Tancredi, Tobin Heath,Kelley O'Hara

    Canada's Sophie Schmidt, left, kicks the ball past Canada's Melissa Tancredi, center, as United States' Tobin Heath runs behind next to the United States' Kelley O'Hara, right, during the semi-final women's soccer match between the USA and Canada in the 2012 Summer Olympics, Monday, Aug. 6, 2012, at Old Trafford in Manchester, England. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

  • U.S. Women's Soccer Defeats Canada In Semis

    Canada fans holds their national flag prior to the Women's Football Semi Final match between Canada and USA, on Day 10 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Old Trafford on August 6, 2012 in Manchester, England.