Carli Lloyd’s brace and some superb goalkeeping from Hope Solo guided the USA to a sweetly savoured victory over a very accomplished Japanese side. It was a hard fought match and although the USA emerged as victors, Japan in large spells looked more threatening with some very neat and inventive passing.
Lloyd’s first goal was a piece of great opportunism as Abby Wambach would have no doubt scored as Alex Morgan’s cross had the Japanese defense rooted to the spot. But just as Wambach swung her leg in anticipation of directing Morgan’s service into goal, Lloyd got in a fraction ahead launching her header to open for the USA. No big deal to a 143 goalscorer. She can afford to cede the limelight to others on occasion. But there was no mistaking Lloyd’s critical second goal as she burst through from almost the half line bearing down on goal and then belting the ball from open field with pace and movement to beat Miho Fukumoto.
The goal came against the run of play as Japan really cranked up the pressure forcing Solo into making at least two very good saves in the first half. Japan should have equalized in the first half but Solo somehow was able to spring up at the right time to push Yuki Ogimi’s header onto the crossbar and out of harm’s way. Christine Rampone was at hand to effect an inches away goal line save after Solo was beaten in a melee.
Later in the first half, the USA dodged a veritable bullet when a handball on Tobin Heath was not called. But the USA finally ceded a goal as the Japanese triangular passing game came calling in their box and in a rare defensive lapse, it fell to Ogimi to direct the ball into goal after a mad scramble to clear failed. In another big moment, Rampone was robbed of the ball by Mana Iwabuchi and as she raced down and launched her shot for the potential equalizer it brought back painful memories of the World Cup match when the US was minutes away from a win. Fortunately for the USA, Solo was in no mood to give any quarter and she brought off yet another fine save.
The victory gave the USA their fourth gold medal in five Olympics since women’s soccer was introduced in the 1996 Atlanta games with the only blip at Sydney, twelve years ago. Japan might have had the edge in talent but the USA made up for it having more self belief, a belief that they were robbed a year ago. That is what they call destiny. It makes you virtually unstoppable.
Who else but Abby Wambach to put an exclamation point:
“But anything less than winning for us is a failure. And we worked tirelessly all year long to prove that we still can win and we are still champions.”
Wembley’s hallowed ground saw a record breaking 83,000 fans watch a entertaining and high quality final with few histrionics and played in the Olympic spirit. Someone remind us. After the high voltage stuff dished out in the women’s matches, there is a men’s final to be played tomorrow?