In front of 80,203 fans at Wembley Stadium, the U.S. Women’s National team were golden yet again with a 2-1 victory over Japan in what was a rematch of the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
The USWNT won its fourth gold medal in the give Olympic competitions featuring women’s soccer. The four gold medals is a feat that has never been accomplished either in Men’s or Women’s Olympic Soccer history.
The USWNT got off to a flying start in the gold medal match when Lloyd gave her side an early lead in the eighth minute.
Shannon Boxx worked the ball from right to left to Kelley O’Hara and then Tobin Heath. Heath slipped a low cross into the box for Alex Morgan, whose first touch took her to the end line left of the goal. She deftly crossed the ball across the front of the goalmouth with her next touch towards Wambach who had crashed towards the net. While it appeared Wambach was poised to get a goal in her sixth straight game London, she remained tightly marked and Lloyd darted into the scene from her midfield run and headed the ball into the right side of the net. Morgan’s assist was her team-leading fifth of the Olympics.
“I’m so proud of her because she played so many games and all of a sudden I thought she wasn’t good enough. Then she just comes back and helps the team tremendously and she proved that I was wrong. I love that,” said USWNT head coach Pia Sundhage on Lloyd’s performance.
“It’s not just the skill on the ball and the physical aspect of the game, but she’s got what it takes. It doesn’t matter what she goes through,” added teammate Hope Solo on Lloyd’s performance. “She’s mentally strong and that’s what I admire most about Carli. Nobody can affect her play, not being benched, she’ll come back on the field and make plays. She’s just a winner. She’s a veteran on this team and she’ll find a way to win.”
Japan found a long spell of possession after the USA goal and ultimately an array of scoring chances. In the 17th minute, Homare Sawa slipped Nahomi Kawasumi through into the left side of the penalty area and the defender took a shot toward the far right post that got past U.S goalkeeper Hope Solo, but team captain Christie Rampone hustled to get a body on the ball and prevent a goal. The rebound deflected off Solo’s back and bounced in the six-yard box where Yuki Ogimi came rushing in to try and finish the opportunity, but Solo did well to get back into position and made a point-blank save.
Solo had a sensational match and came up with a huge save on Ogimi again one minute later, when the Japanese forward snapped a high-header on goal. Solo leapt to get her left glove on the shot and push the ball off the crossbar. U.S. defender Rachel Buehler’s headed clearance fell back to Ogimi for another sniff, but her strike from close range went wide right and high.
“She played very well and helped us big time when we struggled a little bit in defending,” said Sundhage of Solo’s heroics. “I think Japan played very well, but give credit to our defending and give credit for the way we counterattacked.”
The USWNT avoided a potential game-changing moment in the 26th minute when Miyama’s free kick from just outside the box struck the left arm of U.S. midfielder Tobin Heath, who was positioned near the wall inside the penalty area. Japan’s appeals for a penalty were denied as referee Bibiana Steinhaus signaled for play to continue.
Maintaining a one-goal lead to start the second half, the USWNT gave itself a bit more breathing room in the 54th minute with Lloyd’s second goal of the game. Rapinoe dished to Lloyd just inside the Japanese half and she did the rest, dribbling for more than 25 yards through the center of the park and slicing towards goal before unleashing a wicked right-footed blast from 20 yards out that streamed into the left side netting, giving Japan’s diving goalkeeper Miho Fukumoto no chance. The strike would prove to be the game-winner, her second straight in Olympic gold medal matches as she scored the deciding goal in the USA’s 1-0 overtime victory against Brazil in Beijing in 2008.
“Coming in, I was coming off the bench and I didn’t know what to expect,” said Carli Lloyd On her performances in big Olympic matches. “I prepared harder than anyone. I don’t think there is anyone who trains harder than I do. I was ready for the moment and I took it game-by-game. I focused and I kept on it every single day. Hard work pays off.”
Japan’s continual possession and pressure eventually paid off with Ogimi’s rebound goal in the 63rd minute. Japan strung together a bevy of passes before a slicing ball was put into the right side of the penalty area for the streaking Shinobu Ohnu. She took a quick touch before cutting the ball back to Sawa who was wide open at the penalty spot. Sawa hit a first-time shot that got past Solo, and once again Rampone blocked the goal-bound shot off the line. The ball fell back to Sawa, and this time she touched it to her left for Ogimi and the forward buried the easy finish from two yards out.
Japan’s offense had another similar scramble in the 74th minute after Lloyd was called for a handball outside of the box on the right side. Miyama took the free kick and the delivery was deflected to Azusa Iwashimizu who hit a volley on target that seemed destined for goal, but U.S. defender Amy LePeilbet stood resolute and blocked the shot while on her knees. The ball remained loose, but Japan’s Saki Kumagai was eventually called for a foul and the USWNT maintained their slim advantage.
In the final 10 minutes, Japan nearly equalized when Mana Iwabuchi stole the ball from Rampone near the top of the box and closed in one-on-one with Solo. Coming in from the left side, Iwabuchi tried to curl a shot towards the back post but Solo was up to the challenge and made a monster diving save to keep the U.S. in the lead.
“It was such a journey. It was so emotional,” said forward Alex Morgan on her Olympic experience. “It was up-and-down and we all did it together. We were such a unit and we leaned on each other when we needed to. We ended up on top and I’m so happy. We’re the best in the world right now.”