Carli Lloyd, Hope Solo Power U.S. Women to Gold Medal
Carli Lloyd's first goal for the United States in Thursday's gold medal match caused some confusion.
Many in the social media world credited Abby Wambach with getting the touch past keeper Miho Fukumoto that took the U.S. to a 1-0 lead over Japan in the 8th minute, when in fact it was Lloyd who came rushing in to force a powerful header down and into the net.
It would be the first of many saving graces provided by the 30-year-old midfielder, who had told FIFA's official website ahead of the final that the U.S. were "intent on getting revenge" on Japan, who had defeated the Americans in last summer's World Cup final after twice coming back from deficits before winning 3-1 on penalties.
Lloyd, along with Shannon Boxx and Tobin Heath, had missed her penalty that day. Suffice to say, the bitterness of that memory lingered.
On Thursday, the former Rutgers University star did all she could to make amends. Never mind that she had been relegated to the bench during this competition. When the time came for her to put her stamp on the proceedings, she responded with relish.
Lloyd calls Spanish midfield maestro Xavi her "footballing idol," and like the Barcelona central midfielder, she combined terrific distribution and a fantastic shot technique with some relentless bouts of pressing against her opponent.
Playing in a holding role but allowed to push up far more frequently than Boxx, who had returned to central midfield after suffering an injury against New Zealand on Aug. 3, Lloyd frequently broke up Japan's vaunted fluid passing system with a bevy of tough tackles and timely interceptions.
Then, in the 54th minute, she provided what would prove to be the decisive goal in a 2-1 victory.
Collecting the ball in midfield, Lloyd pushed past a slew of defenders with a succession of purposeful right-footed dribbles.
Coasting to the right edge of the penalty area, Lloyd didn't even need to take a glance at goal before unleashing a searing right-footed shot that flew across Fukumoto and into the side netting.
Against Brazil in the 2008 final, Lloyd had scored the only goal of the encounter in extra time to push the U.S. to a repeat of its '04 gold-medal triumph.
"It was an incredible moment and I wish I could experience that kind of thing again," Lloyd told FIFA. "But how we win and who scores doesn’t matter. The most important thing is just to win. That said, I’m ready to do it all again if necessary."
That quote might have been the perfect encapsulation of Lloyd's performance on the day. Superlative individual skill combined with a relentless desire to do the dirty work in defense.
Combined with Solo's saving grace in goal, seen through a number of fingertip saves and acrobatic lunges, it was enough to send the U.S. to its fourth-ever gold medal in Olympic competition.
Solo had drawn some criticism for her rebukes of NBC commentator (and former U.S. national team player) Brandi Chastain, whom Solo believed had been far too critical of the team's defense during these Olympics.
That was all in the past, though. A beaming Solo told Michelle Tafoya after the match that she'd never been on a team as special as this one.
The crowd in attendance at Wembley Stadium, pushing just over 80,000, certainly concurred with that assessment.
Considering that it had been invaded by an army of U.S. supporters, resplendent in all manner of red, white and blue-themed face paint and waving their flags around with zeal, perhaps that wasn't too great a surprise.
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