Lloyd brace earns United States football gold and last laugh after World Cup tears
Thursday, 09 August 2012
August 9 - In front of a record crowd for an Olympic women's football match of 80,203, the United States gained sweet revenge for last year's World Cup final defeat to Japan as they tightened their firm grip on the gold medal on a tense, sticky and absorbing night here.
The host nation may have already departed the tournament but the massed ranks of fans created a carnival flag-waving atmosphere as the sport's two best teams again locked horns, with the Americans (pictured top) this time edging through 2-1 courtesy of two Carli Lloyd goals in what had been billed as something of a grudge match.
Japan took the silver medal – their first of any colour in Olympic women's football – while Canada, who fortuitously beat France 1-0 earlier in the day in Coventry, took the bronze.
Remarkably, only once in five successive appearances in the final since women's football was introduced as an Olympic sport has the US failed to grasp the gold – that was 12 years ago against Norway but tonight the status quo was once again maintained.
"Greatness has been found" trumpeted the slogan on the bright white T-shirts the players donned immediately after the final whistle following an epic duel which could have gone either way and set a new attendance benchmark for women's football in Europe.
Ever since dramatically losing on penalties to Japan in the World Cup final in Germany a year ago, Pia Sundhage's team had been focused on only one thing – making up for the hurt and having their dream, as they put it this week, "snatched away".
Lloyd was one of three Americans who fluffed their spot-kicks that night in Frankfurt but this time she was the heroine, just as she was four years ago in Beijing when she scored the only goal of the game to help the Americans to gold against Brazil.
As Japan started nervously and tentatively, Lloyd's header after eight minutes following great work from Alex Morgan gave her side an early lead.
Nine minutes into the second half she buried a ferocious 20-yard strike to double the advantage but that was by no means the whole story.
The Americans frequently rode their luck as Japan played the smoother, crisper, more controlled football.
Hope Solo had to be at her brilliant best to tip a free header from Yuki Ogimi on to the crossbar and was then fortunate to see a shot from Aya Miyama hit the woodwork again before rebounding to safety.
If that was not enough Japan were unlucky not to be awarded a penalty when Tobin Heath clearly handled Miyama's free-kick, although the world champions themselves had a major slice of good fortune when Azusa Iwashimizu, under no pressure, headed against her own post.
On 63 minutes Japan got the goal they deserved when Ogimi scored from close range.
As they continued to press the Japanese were thwarted by two goalline clearances and again by Solo who produced a flying save to deny substitute Mana Iwabuchi.
In the end, however, the equaliser would not come against physically – and possibly mentally – stronger opponents.
The celebrations at the finish – in front of a crowd that eclipsed the previous biggest Olympic attendance of 76,489 set in Atlanta in 1996 – said everything about what victory meant to the Americans, even if Abby Wambach, the second highest scorer in US women's football history, failed to make it six goals from six games to set yet another record.
"This is pretty crazy," said Lloyd, who was submerged by a jubilant American squad.
"Japan are a great team and Hope made some amazing saves to keep us in the game, but the bottom line is we scored goals than they did."
"This speaks volumes about the team.
"We are born to win championships.
"We thrive under the pressure and love being in finals.
"But I'm glad it didn't go to extra time!"
Solo was quick to play down her own performance: "It's a team effort, but I'm proud to contribute finally."
Ogimi said her team-mates were happy with silver but the whole Japanese party will know how close they came to snatching the gold.
"I felt we could come back but we just couldn't get the result," she said.
The only downside of the night was the sound of FIFA President Sepp Blatter being booed, as he so often seems to be in this country, at the medal ceremony.
But that was a minor distraction on a night when the US not only re-established their hegemony but the women's game gained even more ground in a country that, during London 2012, has embraced it like never before.
To read Exclusive: Blatter hails London 2012 football tournament as best in his time at FIFA click here.
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