OTTAWA - She is the only player on the planet who has scored winning goals in successive Olympic gold-medal matches. So the degree of difficulty in coming through during the Women's World Cup quarterfinals wasn't as great for Carli Lloyd Friday night.
Given more freedom to move into the attack, Lloyd made the most of one big opportunity, scoring on a header to give the United States a 1-0 win over China.
"These are the moments that I live for," she said.
The win, in the team's best performance of the tournament, puts the Americans in the semifinals, where they'll meet top-ranked Germany on Tuesday. Team USA has made the Final Four of all seven Women's World Cups, the only team to accomplish that feat.
"It's a big step in terms of the energy and confidence we had, the way we moved the ball," coach Jill Ellis said. "It's a really good step heading into the semifinals to have this feeling."
"The players that stepped out today, magnificent," Lloyd said. "The mentality of this team is to go at players to put them on their back heels, and we did that."
Whether the No. 2 Americans can duplicate that in their semifinal in Montreal is another matter, although the Germans survived a nail-biter themselves, defeating No. 3 France on penalty kicks, 5-4, after a 1-1 draw.
Ellis had to do some serious lineup shuffling. Midfielders Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday served one-game bans and striker Abby Wambach rested her 35-year-old body for most of the match. Amy Rodriguez started in her place. Morgan Brian, the youngest American at 22, was slotted alongside Lloyd at central midfield. Tobin Heath was flipped to left midfield in Rapinoe's spot. Kelley O'Hara, a defender, started at right wing.
The fresh blood worked as the team applied constant pressure and made it difficult for China to start attacks.
"You can tell the more pressure we put China under, the more they coughed the ball up," Lloyd said. "We want to make other teams nervous and not vice versa."
That helped to limit China to a handful of pedestrian opportunities as goalkeeper Hope Solo registered her U.S.-best 134th win while extending the Americans' shutout streak to 423 minutes. They have allowed one goal and recorded four shutouts.
Lloyd celebrated her 200th international appearance with her 65th goal, captaining the team on a rare occasion.
She said her success came from "freedom to play, doing what I do best, going at players."
Having Holiday sidelined put Lloyd into attack mode at forward. Brian shouldered the veteran midfielder's old responsibilities as a holding midfielder.
"Morgan Brian, sitting more in that pocket, enabled me to roam and find space and connect with the forwards," Lloyd said.
She connected with a perfectly lofted long ball from center back Julie Johnston in the 55th minute, outjumping Rong Zhao at the penalty spot and heading the ball into the lower right corner past goalkeeper Fei Wang.
"For some reason, I knew today was going to be a day for Carli to show up," said Wambach, who replaced Rodriguez in the 86th minute. "She doesn't have many . . . games without getting involved and making things happen."