The United States won its third successive women’s Olympic soccer title by beating Japan 2-1 in a superb gold-medal match at Wembley Stadium on Thursday to avenge their defeat in last year’s World Cup final.
Two goals from midfielder Carli Lloyd, a header after eight minutes and a rasping shot from the edge of the box in the 54th, set the U.S. on its way to a fourth Olympic gold in the five women’s tournaments played.
Japan, which beat the U.S. on penalties in last year’s World Cup final, halved the deficit after 63 minutes when the Americans failed to clear their lines, and Yuki Ogimi scored from close range, her third goal in successive matches.
Japan dominated in attack from then o,n but could not find an equalizer and was denied what looked like a certain goal seven minutes from time when U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo made an excellent save from substitute Mana Iwabuchi.
“It was a big moment for us and we knew we could come out and beat them. We weren’t coming home without a gold medal,” Lloyd said. “We had to be physical, we had to dig deep, you just never know with them. We had to fight to the very end.”
The attendance of 80,203 was a record for a women’s match at an Olympics beating the 76,481 at the Atlanta Games in 1996. They created a magical atmosphere at Wembley, completely different from the usual domestic crowds, with fans cheering and applauding both teams.
Although the U.S. deserved the win, it rode a bit of luck during the first half when Japan hit the bar twice and had what looked like a legitimate penalty appeal turned down.
After Lloyd gave the U.S. an early lead, when she dove in to head the ball home just as Abby Wambach was shaping up to shoot, Ogimi should have equalized, but was denied when Solo palmed her header on to the bar after 18 minutes.
Six minutes later the U.S., for the second successive match, benefited from a dubious refereeing decision in the box.
A well-struck free-kick clearly hit Tobin Heath on the left arm, but instead of awarding Japan a penalty, German referee Bibiana Steinhaus waved play on.
The U.S. had benefited from being given a penalty in their semifinal when the ball struck a Canada defender’s arm as she was turning away and the referee ruled in the U.S.’s favor.
Their next piece of luck followed in the 33rd minute when Shinobu Ohno rattled the bar with Solo well beaten.
“You cannot win at everything you attempt at in life,” said Abby Wambach. “You have to be willing to fail and fall flat on your face in order to get gold. We did that last year in our opinion. We have to give Japan credit, but anything less than winning for us is a failure. We worked tirelessly to prove we are still champions.”