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USA takes down Japan to win gold
Driven to glory by two goals from Carli Lloyd, the Americans collected their fourth gold medal, a total no soccer team – men’s or women’s – can equal. With the win, the American women now must enter the conversation as one of the greatest national teams in the sport – a notion that will give fans of the likes of Italy and Brazil fits, but happens to be true.
Led by a golden generation of players – Abby Wambach, Hope Solo, Christie Rampone – and reinforced by a young set of horses that never seemed to know when they were beat, this American side has been one of the most thrilling and dramatic teams ever to take the world stage.
But the heartbreak kids, who downed Canada in what many consider to be the greatest soccer game of the last 30 years just to get here, needed no last second-heroics this time around.
Led by Lloyd’s goal in just the seventh minute, and then ended by a cannon of a shot in the 53rd minute, the Americans were able to out a strong wave of Japanese pressure to finally put twelve months of despair behind them.
Last July, the Japanese downed the Americans on penalty kicks in a wrenching World Cup loss. Coming into the game, the USA was determined not to let that grim history repeat itself: they had practiced their spot-kicks, and beefed up their style of play.
Normally a run and gun, athletics-first side, coach Pia Sundhage had strived to meld some of Japan’s silk and passing to her four-hundred horsepower offense. Megan Rapinoe came to the fore, with her energy and passing leading the Yanks, and the “baby horse,” Alex Morgan, was deployed as a harassing force up top. The plan worked, with the Americans overcoming a shaky defensive effort to hold off Japan’s vaunted counterattack.
Morgan was involved on the first goal, feeding Lloyd from the endline up to the rght flank where she nipped in front of her own teammate, Abby Wambach, to head the ball past a helpless Miho Fukumoto. Then, it was Rapinoe, laying off the ball 25 yards out from goal, who set up Lloyd’s second, vital goal. It was her fourth goal of the Games and arguably the most important in her seven years with the national team.
But it was hardly a picnic: the Americans were forced to ride out a tough spell of pressure from the reigning world champs and a rough half hour that saw Japan climb right back into it. Hope Solo made two superb saves, slapping Yuki Ogimi onto the crossbar to deny a sure goal, then was forced to watch as the bar saved her on its own when Shinubo Ohno let fly from range.
Ogimi would create panic for the Americans when a goalmouth scramble at the hour mark allowed her to score and drag her team back into the game. Homare Sawa had fired the ball in only to see Christie Rampone clear the ball off the line, but the Americans could not clear it out of their own area, and Ogimi was able to punch the ball into an unguarded net.
Solo then made a game-saving stop with a dive to deny Asuna Tanaka with seven minutes left to play after Christie Rampone was caught in possession.
The Americans also got some help: Tobin Heath should have been called for a handball in the box in the first half but German ref Bibiana Steinhaus declined to give the call.
It’s unclear what is next for the Americans. The women have no league to return to after the collapse of the second professional league in a decade in the States. Many of their greatest players – Wambach, Solo key among them – look set to depart from the international scene. And as Japan and Canada both showed these Games, the rest of the world is catching up.
But for now, with the women at the center of Wembley field, flags around their shoulders, it’s hard to see anything past the glory. The American women are already the best-loved national team in the States, and rightly so.
Now, they are also, inarguably, the greatest.
Jamie Trecker is the senior editor for FOXSoccer.com covering the UEFA Champions League and the Barclays Premier League.
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