USA beats Japan for Olympic women's soccer gold
LONDON -- The American women find themselves with yet another soccer gold medal, thanks mostly to a player who wanted to prove the world wrong and a goalkeeper who could almost do no wrong.
Midfielder Carli Lloyd, who wasn't even in the starting lineup for the opening game at these Olympics, provided the offensive spark, scoring both goals in the U.S.'s 2-1 win over Japan in the final at Wembley Stadium Thursday.
Hope Solo again proved why she is the best women's goalkeeper in the world, making a vital late save to secure the triumph and giving the Americans' their third successive gold medal and fourth in five Games.
"The thing about great athletes and superstars is they show up when they're needed," striker Abby Wambach said.
The Americans' sixth consecutive win in the tournament before 80,203, an Olympic women's attendance record, avenged their defeat to Japan in last year's Women's World Cup final.
"Everything that's happened 'til now doesn't matter because it's all part of the process," Wambach said. "The fact we're champions means we all committed to one central idea. That idea was believe in each other when nobody else did. Last summer when we lost in heart-breaking fashion on penalty kicks in the World Cup, your team can go one way or the other after something like that. Our team chose the right path."
The same thing can be said about Lloyd, who scored the game-winner in the 1-0 win over Brazil in the 2008 Beijing final. Lloyd, however, had been relegated to the bench here by coach Pia Sundhage behind Lauren Cheney and Shannon Boxx.
"I was on a mission this Olympics to prove everybody wrong, and that's what I did," said Lloyd.
A hamstring injury forced Boxx from the 4-2 opening win over France. Lloyd replaced her and scored the game-winning goal and never left the lineup.
"I knew I had a big job -- had to seize the moment," Lloyd said. "I worked hard and when someone tells me I'm not good enough to start I'm going to prove them wrong. I was probably the most consistent player all tournament."
Lloyd, who finished with four goals, even received a public apology from Sundhage.
"She has proven that I was wrong before the Olympics," she said. "I am happy she was more clever than I was."
With a healthy Boxx returning to the lineup Thursday, Lloyd could play more of an attacking role and she took advantage of that.
First, she headed home Alex Morgan's short feed from the left side in the eighth minute. The U.S. took a 1-0 halftime lead despite a dominant Japan coming close to scoring several times and not having an obvious handball called on U.S. midfielder Tobin Heath in the penalty area in the 27th minute.
Lloyd gave the U.S. some breathing room with one of her long blasts -- a left-footer from 20 yards -- past goalkeeper Miho Fukumoto in the 54th minute.
Lloyd said the "second goal was just doing what I do best, taking the space, dribbling at players. I just continued to dribble and found an open shot, took advantage of it."
Solo's status as the top keeper in the world was never in doubt, and that's despite giving up three goals to Canada's Christine Sinclair in the semis.
She could not stop Japan's Yuki Ogimi from scoring off a rebound in the 63rd minute, but she came up big when she was needed.
Her crucial moment came in the 83rd minute with Japan pressing for an equalizer. Captain Christie Rampone, who cleared one shot off the line in the first half, was stripped of the ball by Mana Iwabuchi. Iwabuchi raced in alone on Solo, who stretched to produce a two-handed save.
"If she doesn't make that save who knows what happens?" Wambach said. "We could still be out there right now."
Added Solo: "I think I tend to play well under pressure."