Article by Leanne Elston
The USWNT defeated Japan 2-1 today to become gold medal champions in the Olympics for third consecutive time and fourth time overall. Earlier in the day, Canada beat France 1-0 with a late stoppage time goal from Diana Matheson, earning them the bronze medal in the tournament.
While this match didn’t have quite the drama that the semifinal against Canada did, it was a strong testament to the quality women’s soccer possesses. Both the US and Japan played quick, exciting soccer for 90 minutes, and anyone watching -- whether an active soccer fan or not -- was surely thoroughly entertained.
Carli Lloyd was the hero for the US on the night, opening the scoring in the 8th minute and bagging her brace in the 54th with a rocket from distance. The game had its own bit of controversy with an uncalled Tobin Heath handball in the box, but otherwise it was impressive performances from two sides that have tons of respect for each other.
Here’s how the US won gold.
Pre-game -- Lauren Cheney makes way for Shannon Boxx, who returns to the lineup for this game after suffering a hamstring injury in the first game of the tournament. I’m glad that NBC Sports decided to actually show the anthems this time, although I’m not glad Brandi Chastain is still there (if only she could have magically gone away...). There’s a lot of respect between these two teams, which is evident just by watching the pre-game handshakes; Japan coach Norio Sasaki also just trotted over to Pia Sundhage to exchange pleasantries.
2nd minute -- Japan’s red shirts and white shorts make them look a bit like Japanese flags out there, so it’s almost too bad the US couldn’t wear its Waldo kits for this one. Then we really would have had a flag inspired fashion show going on. I’m so confused about Fukumoto’s goalkeeper kit, though -- neon yellow socks and shorts, but a gray top? What? That is not great mixing and matching.
8th minute -- GOAL. USA 1-0 Japan. Tobin Heath finds Alex Morgan at the near post, and Carli Lloyd stoops to head home Morgan’s cross. It looked at first like Abby Wambach scored it -- and Twitter was confused for a few moments, too -- but nope, it was Lloyd. Allow me to give you some expert analysis: this is a good start.
14th minute -- How great is Megan Rapinoe? There have been a few articles praising her performance during this competition -- remember that without her two goals against Canada, Morgan’s miracle goal wouldn’t have been so miraculous. She’s just playing so well right now, and it’s absolutely fantastic to watch.
17th minute -- Nahomi Kawasumi breaks through the US defense off a pass from Homare Sawa and takes a shot but Hope Solo makes the save from extremely close range. Yuki Ogimi gets the rebound but Christie Rampone clears it off the line.
18th minute -- Hope Solo with another huge save, just getting her fingertips to Ogimi’s header, which then hits the crossbar. Rachel Buehler’s clearance goes back to Ogimi, but the rebound is not on target. Phew. That was a pretty scary two minutes there. Solo and her defense coming up big on those plays.
24th minute -- After those close calls, the US has kept possession well. Japan is still attacking though, and they are dangerous. This game feels like it’ll be close until the very end.
25th minute -- Japan takes a free kick that hits the US wall in the box -- and hits Tobin Heath’s outstretched arm. Japan calls for a handball, and they sure do have a case. Replay shows that that was indeed a handball. Heath and the US are very lucky that wasn’t called.
28th minute -- Japanese defender Azusa Iwashimizu nearly doubles the US’ lead with an own goal, but her header hits the post instead. That would have been particularly cruel after the no-call a couple minutes ago.
33rd minute -- Japan are pressing; Aya Miyama has a perfect opportunity to score but hits the crossbar for Japan this time. This game is fast-paced and positively top-notch soccer. A definite treat for anyone watching, soccer fan or not.
37th minute -- Seriously, it’s a little incredible that Japan hasn’t scored. Ohno’s effort curled just barely wide there. The US need to get back some possession and increase their pressure, or eventually Japan is going to find the back of the net.
44th minute -- Better stuff now from the US. Lloyd and Boxx have both had long-range efforts in the last few minutes, but in general the US is getting closer to Japan’s goal. Reassuring to see after that nervous period earlier.
Halftime -- USA 1-0 Japan. The US is a tad lucky to still have the lead after that handball in the box and Japan applying tons of attacking pressure on the goal. This a wonderful match-up for a gold medal final, though. The US and Japan are the best in the world, and they definitely look it.
47th minute -- After a Japan free kick, Buehler is down. She got tangled up with Saki Kumagai and they both collided with Solo. Buehler soon returns to the field, though. It’s worth noting that Buehler actually had her arms around Kumagai on that play, which, uh, you’re not really supposed to do.
51st minute -- I’m drinking a cup of tea during this half so I gotta be careful not to spill on my white jersey if anything happens. Wambach almost made me spill just now -- she was lurking at the post, but Fukumoto got there first.
54th minute -- GOAL. USA 2-0. Carli Lloyd makes a long run down the middle of the pitch and has options around her but chooses to shoot -- and we’re all glad she did. A beautiful shot to the far post gives the keeper no chance. I love Lloyd’s knack for showing up and scoring in important moments. She’s something else.
57th minute -- US substitution. Lauren Cheney comes in for Megan Rapinoe.
63rd minute -- GOAL. USA 2-1 Japan. The US did some more insane defending on the line -- Rampone cleared it that time -- but ultimately it’s not enough. Ogimi gets the loose ball into the net and makes this game just a little more nerve-wracking. Everybody hold on, there’s still a lot of time in this one.
69th minute -- Rachel Buehler, of all people, almost scored a goal from close-range there. I yelled out a strangled sort of “Buehler!!” but alas.
70th minute -- There’s a storm brewing here and I lost the satellite. Luckily the NBC website has the match, but of course I have to watch an advertisement and then wait for it to load. I can tell the online stream is behind the television broadcast, though, which is pretty annoying.
74th minute -- A Japan free kick causes heart attacks yet again. There’s chaos in the box, but the referee calls a foul that goes the US’ way.
77th minute -- There’s a crowd of 80,203 for this game at Wembley Stadium, which sets a new Olympic record for women’s soccer. That’s pretty awesome.
81st minute -- US substitution. Becky Sauerbrunn comes in for Rachel Buehler.
83rd minute -- Hope Solo comes up HUGE with a diving save after Rampone was dispossessed and Asuna Tanaka shot far post. That was insanely important and some incredible skill. The US just has to hold out here.
89th minute -- Abby Wambach heads a corner kick close enough to the goal that my mom and I both gasped loudly, but it’s not goal number three.
90th minute -- Yellow card for Wambach after her challenge Iwashimizu. There will be two minutes of added time.
Full time -- USA 2-1 Japan. The USWNT are Olympic gold medal champions for the fourth time and earn redemption for last year’s World Cup final. Give Japan the credit they deserve; they played an excellent tournament and made this game difficult for the US. It was nervous at times, but ultimately, the US came out on top.
This one feels pretty good.
The USWNT will go on a victory tour in the US, starting in September with matches against Costa Rica (Sept 1) and Australia (Sept 15).