The 2011 World Cup loss left the U.S. women's soccer team in emotional shock and shambles. According to captain Abby Wambach, there was an insatiable team desire to not only dominate the following Olympics, but get that win back from Japan. Both opportunities presented themselves on Thursday night, and the U.S. capitalized with a gritty, well-earned 2-1 victory over Japan in London to win a third straight Olympic gold medal match.
Carli Lloyd was the hero this time around, scoring both goals for the U.S. and keeping pressure on the Japanese defense. Hope Solo's defense was impenetrable in goal with save after save, and Wambach continued to influence play on offense despite her first scoreless game of the tournament, showing no signs of slowing down as the critics had debated.
Both nations saw chances on runs in the first 10 minutes of play, but only the U.S. took advantage. In the eighth minute, Alex Morgan took a low cross from Tobin Heath on the near post and dribbled it all the way to the back line as she was heavily defended. At the last second, Morgan turned inside and fired a left-footed cross towards the far post to a sprinting Lloyd, who flew in with perfect timing for a header and the opening goal of the match. Wambach was there waiting to strike as well.
Japan had a chance to respond less than 10 minutes later when Homare Sawa, FIFA Women's Player of the Year and the villian that gave Japan the second equalizer last year in the World Cup final, led Nahomi Kawasumi forward on a pass in the box. Kawasumi fired a shot that Solo rebounded back into play, and the ball eventually dribbled past the back line for a goal kick.
Just five minutes later, Kawasumi sprinted down the left sideline with the ball and sent a perfect cross in the box to Yuki Ogimi for a leaping header, but Solo held again with a one-handed save to push the ball over the crossbar.
Kristy Rampone led the maintenance of the back line well for the U.S. as Japan continued to press and press in the first half. Late in the 26th minute, Japan took a free kick towards the goal from just outside the box, only to have the referees miss a definite hand ball call by Heath and possible penalty shot.
Shinobu Ohno wiggled away from the U.S. defense in the 33rd minute to pass to a streaking Aya Miyama, but the crossbar again proved an enemy to Japan as Miyama's shot lipped over. Right at the 38th minute, Ohno attempted to bend a shot inside the right post but the ball flew outside.
As the second half began, Rachel Buehler held a Japanese attacker around the waist on a free kick in the 47th minute, avoiding yet another penalty. As the ball flew towards the six-yard box, Solo came out strong to punch the ball away, and Buehler and the attacker crashed into Solo, sending Buehler off the pitch with a head injury. She would later return to action, but was later replaced for good by Becky Sauerbrunn after showing concussion-like symptoms.
Lloyd put away her second goal at the beginning of the 55th minute, running half the length of the field and blasting it from the top of the box into the lower left corner of the net. Wambach and Morgan widened out at the last minute to stretch out the defense and open up the land for Lloyd.
Japan's continuous offensive pressure finally paid off as Ogimi tapped in a goal in the 63rd minute after a mad scramble in the box. Lloyd did get caught for a hand ball in the 73rd minute a few yards from the box, and the subsequent free kick almost made its way into the goal much like Ogimi's.
Asuna Tanaka flew down the field for Japan in the 83rd minute to take away a pass out of the box from Solo to Rampone. Tanaka aimed for the far corner with a wide open shot, but Solo went horizontal to send the attempt wide and end the last real threat from the Japanese side.
With no professional league to return to for many of the ladies after the folding of the Women's Professional Soccer league, the U.S.' win means a longer home tour of games and a bonus of over a million dollars.
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