Photo: Paul Rudderow
The US took down Japan 2-1 to win Olympic gold for the fourth time in five tries. Carli Lloyd scored a fantastic brace to assure the Americans would avenge their shootout loss to the Japanese in last year’s World Cup Final. Lloyd tallied early in each half before Japan’s Yuki Ogimi pulled one back with about a half hour to play. Hope Solo was forced to play her best game of the tournament and made some outstanding stops to keep the Japanese from finding the tying goal.
Pia Sundhage made one change to the starting line up that faced Canada in the semi-finals. Shannon Boxx returned to the starting XI for the first time since the first match of the tournament, with Lauren Cheney giving way.
The US could not have started better with Lloyd’s first goal coming after only 8 minutes. Some good play through the midfield saw the goal start from a Megan Rapinoe throw in from the right side. Rapinoe’s throw found Shannon Boxx, who smartly switched the ball to left back Kelly O’Hara. O’Hara played a perfect first time ball to Tobin Heath on the corner of the Japanese box. Heath’s low cross found Alex Morgan on the six yard box on the near post, and her first touch pushed the ball to the end line. Morgan then floated a perfect cross toward the far post where Abby Wambach was waiting to tap in for the opening goal. But before Wambach could swing her left foot, Lloyd arrived at the perfect time to power a low header into the corner of the net.
The early goal served as a wake up call to the Japanese who really came into the game in the 20 minutes following the tally. In the 17th minute, Nahomi Kawasumi got behind the US back line on the right side and her low shot from 10 yards beat Solo, only to see the seemingly ageless American captain Christie Rampone slide back to deny the chance. With the ball still alive in the US six yard box, Solo dove to push away Yuki Ogimi’s rebound opportunity.
It would be Solo denying Ogimi again just one minute later. The Japanese forward found space in the US box to power a high header toward the top corner of Solo’s net. But Solo rose high and just got a finger tip onthe ball to push it off the crossbar. Rachel Beuhler’s clearance fell to Ogimi again, who could only push her shot high and wide.
The Japanese then had a huge penalty shout in when Aya Miyama’s free kick from just outside the area clearly struck the arm of Tobin Heath, but referee Bibiana Steinhaus waved play on.
Able to regroup at half time, the Americans started the half brightly and it would be Lloyd scoring one of the goals of the tournament in the 54th minute. The midfielder picked up the ball 40 yards from goal and drove straight down the center of the park at the Japanese back line. With Morgan peeling off on the left and Wambach to the right, Lloyd put her head down and unleashed a perfect right footed shot from 20 yards inside the side netting of the far post.
But the ever resilient Japanese would not fade away. Shinobu Ohnu was played through on the right side of the US box before cutting the ball back to Homare Sawa at the penalty spot. Sawa’s attempt beat Solo but again Rampone was there to bail out her goalkeeper. But the rebound came back to Sawa, whose sliding attempt went to Ogimi to tap in from two yards.
The Japanese would continue to probe for the equalizer. Azusa Iwashimizu’s volleyed a shot after a scramble in the US box that seemed destined for goal, only for Amy LePeilbet to block the attempt with her thigh while falling to her knees.
Hope Solo then would assure the gold medal for the US with the biggest save of her career in the 80th minute. An uncharacteristic mistake from Rampone saw the defender misplay a ball straight into the path of Mana Iwabuchi. Iwabuchi was in on goal from 18 yards, but her curling shot was pushed away by a fully stretched Solo. The Americans saw off the final moments of the game and assured they would return from London as Olympic champions.
The match was a worthy final and the headlines will rightfully talk about the American’s will and their redemption against the Japanese. But the Japanese side were worthy adversaries and nothing but class until the final whistle.