Carli Lloyd and Hope Solo Inspire Team USA to Olympic Gold Against Japan
The United States have won a record third straight Olympic women's football title after Carli Lloyd's brace and the goalkeeping heroics of Hope Solo inspired them to a 2-1 victory in the gold medal match against Japan at Wembley Stadium.
Yuki Ogimi's second-half strike gave Japan hope, but the U.S. would not be denied their chance to avenge defeat to the Japanese in the 2011 World Cup final.
Before a raucous packed house of over 80,000 fans, Team USA made history and reinforced their status as the No. 1 team in the world.
It was a final that brought together contrasting footballing cultures—the direct, expansive and excitable approach of Team USA set against the considered, subtle blend of a Japan team who are perhaps the closest thing in women's soccer to Barcelona.
One packing a ferocious attacking punch, the other well-versed in inflicting footballing death by a thousand cuts—or should that be passes.
The U.S. got the first blow in early. Tobin Heath released the exuberant Alex Morgan down in the inside left channel, and her hooked cross was taken off Abby Wambach's toe by the diving head of Lloyd, who directed it in to the back of the net.
Wembley erupted. A mass of blue-and-white bodies bundled together in hysterical celebration. And there was briefly the sense that Team USA could ride an unstoppable wave to dominant victory.
But this Japan are not easily flustered. And this Japan are not for the rolling over. Soon enough, they were patiently putting the passes together and knocking on the door to find an equalizer.
On 16 minutes, Solo was called upon to make a brave block after Christie Rampone's desperate goal-line clearance. Two minutes later, Solo saved brilliantly from Ogimi's close-range header.
Japan were beginning to set the tone of the contest. But all the while you've got players like Lloyd, Morgan, Wambach and Megan Rapinoe at your disposal, you carry the potential of turning defense into attack, and doing it quickly.
Just shy of the half-hour mark, Team USA came within a lick of paint of doubling their lead. Defender Azusa Iwashimizu was put under pressure and her misjudged header cannoned against the post.
Japan reacted well and should have been level soon after. Shinobu Ohno was guilty of dwelling on possession in the U.S. penalty box, and though she laid Aya Miyama for a shot that hit the bar, the best chance for a strike had already passed.
There was a strong penalty shout for Japan too, and Team USA were arguably fortunate to take a lead into the break. They'd done so by a combination of inspired goalkeeping and a little luck, but you got the feeling Japan wouldn't be resisted for a full 90 minutes.
All of which made Lloyd's stunning second-half goal as vital as any she's scored in a long and storied international career.
Driving through midfield, the 30-year-old shrugged off a challenge before unleashing a bullet into the corner from 25 yards. Wembley has seen some goals in its time, but this was one to stand alongside the very best.
Inevitably, Japan refused to give in. They found a goal of their own from Ogimi on the hour mark and pushed for dear life to find the equalizer in the 30 minutes that remained.
Once again, Solo came to the Team USA's rescue—launching herself horizontal to make a fine save from substitute Mana Iwabuchi's shot.
It was as close as Japan would come to an equalizer. A frantic final few minutes ensued, but Team USA held firm, and soon enough, the celebrations were uncorked as the referee blew for full-time.
Olympic champions. For a fourth time in five attempts. It was no less than Lloyd, Solo and their brilliant U.S. teammates deserved.
They must now be considered one of the great Olympic teams.
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