LONDON: The United States clinched a 2-1 victory over Japan in the Olympic women’s football final Thursday as Carli Lloyd’s double gave her country a third successive gold medal and avenged last year’s World Cup final defeat against the Asian giants.
Lloyd missed a penalty when the United States lost that World Cup final in an agonizing shoot-out, but she enjoyed sweet redemption at Wembley with a goal in each half and, although Japan’s Yuki Ogimi got one back, America held on to secure their fourth gold in women’s football in the last five Olympics.
The United States has enjoyed a remarkable run of Olympic success since women’s football was introduced to the Games in 1996 and their triumph in London followed previous wins in Atlanta in 1996, Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008.
Even when America didn’t win the tournament in Sydney in 2000, they still went away with the silver medal.
Japan, who had been attempting to become only the second team in history to hold the women’s World Cup and Olympic titles, were unable to break their stranglehold despite an impressive display.
The chance to avenge a heartbreaking loss against Japan in Germany just over a year ago had propelled Pia Sundhage’s U.S. team toward the final and they finished the job thanks to Lloyd’s goals, including a sublime solo effort and a superb display from goalkeeper Hope Solo.
Japan made their first appearance in the women’s Olympic final and, with gold at stake in front of 80,203 audience members, there were a few nerves in the opening stages.
Saki Kumagai made a hash of controlling a long ball on the edge of her own penalty area and Alex Morgan quickly took advantage, seizing possession before testing Japan goalkeeper Miho Fukumoto with a powerful strike.
It was a warning that Japan couldn’t allow Morgan space to flourish, but the 23-year-old escaped again to create the opening goal for Lloyd in the eighth minute.
Tobin Heath picked out Morgan in the penalty area and the Seattle Sounders star showed tremendous poise under pressure as she recovered from a heavy first touch to clip over a teasing cross that Lloyd headed home from close-range.
That sparked a furious response from Japan. Solo had to race off her line to bravely block Ogimi’s shot. Then moments later the unmarked Ogimi powered a header goalward, only for Solo to produce a superb tip onto the crossbar.
Japan also had a strong penalty appeal turned down when Heath handled a free-kick, but Azusa Iwashimizu nearly gifted the U.S. a second goal when her attempted headed clearance cannoned off her own post.
The Asians kept probing and Shinobu Ohno displayed nimble feet to evade a crowd of defenders before slipping a pass to skipper Aya Miyama, whose rising shot crashed onto the bar.
Ohno went close with a curling shot from the edge of the penalty area just before half time.
But the U.S. doubled their lead thanks to a stunning individual effort from Lloyd in the 55th minute. Taking possession midway inside the Japan half, Lloyd strode forward unchecked before smashing a ferocious strike past Fukumoto from 20 yards.
Japan still didn’t concede defeat and they scored in the 64th minute. Homare Sawa’s shot was cleared off the line, but Sawa lunged for the rebound and her challenge diverted the ball toward Ogimi, who tapped-in from no more than two yards out.
Japan swept forward in search of an equalizer and Solo had to make one last crucial stop to preserve the victory as she turned away a strike from substitute Mana Iwabuchi.
As for the bronze match, midfielder Diana Matheson scored an injury-time winner to give Canada a 1-0 win over France.