Olympic Football: 4 Ways US Women Turned Tables and Got Revenge on Japan
In case you missed it, the USA women's soccer team defeated Japan 2-1 today to claim their third straight Olympic gold medal and fourth in the five such tournaments ever staged.
While the fact that the battle determined the London gold medalists made the match have no shortage of significance, the match carried another interesting factor: It was a rematch between the two finalists from last summer's Women's World Cup.
Last year, it was Japan who bested the United States after twice coming back from a goal down to take it in penalties.
So what went differently this time around?
Here are four ways Team USA's women turned last year's loss to Japan into an Olympic gold medal.
On at least two separate occasions, USA keeper Hope Solo pulled off an amazing save that proved vital in preserving the victory.
In the 18th minute, a free header in the box from Yuki Ogimi looked sure to find the back of the net before Solo acrobatically batted it onto the crossbar.
The key save, though, was made late in the match on Mana Iwabuchi. The Japanese girl robbed Christie Rampone about 20 yards out and ran into the box in loads of space. With a clear look at goal, Iwabuchi tried to curl the ball past Solo, but the keeper dove to her left and barely parried the ball away.
Last year, Solo didn't play poorly. However, today's exceptional performance provided a big advantage for the USA.
Carli Lloyd Magic
It's easy to spotlight a scorer of a brace as an important factor in a victory, but Carli Lloyd's goals were definitely huge.
In the eighth minute, Lloyd's commitment to the play allowed Alex Morgan to recover what looked to be a broken move and find Carli on the back post. From there, Lloyd did very well to direct the ball into the side of the net off the volley.
It was her second goal, though, that really wowed. Running at the edge of the box in the 53rd minute, Lloyd hit a wonder-strike into the side netting that gave the USA the advantage they needed to win the match.
Last year, the United States could find no such moment of inspiration and only held a one-goal lead in the match.
Lady Luck Was on Their Side
They say there is a factor of luck in every championship. Today was no exception.
The USA looked to have gotten lucky to not have penalties called on them on two separate occasions in the match.
In the first half, a clear handball by Tobin Heath in the penalty box somehow went unnoticed by the referee.
Early in the second half, a Japan free kick resulted in a skirmish in the box in which Rachel Buehler seemed to have her arms wrapped around a Japanese player. Again, the potential foul went unpunished.
Great Last-Ditch Defending
Last year, the USA seemed to crumble under the pressure of a one goal lead on two separate occasions.
This time around, they showed the hearts of lion(esse)s.
Christie Rampone made two goal-line clearances and the USA were able to do what they weren't last year: hold on.
Yes, they gave up the goal to let Japan back into the match, but that's inconsequential.
Bend but not break.
The USA women may have gained a measure of revenge over their Japanese foes, but do not think that this rivalry is over.
After all, Japan still holds the most important title of them all: world champions.
USA will have to wait until 2015 to truly avenge their loss and overcome Japan.
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