Hope Solo found herself enveloped in a group hug at the final whistle. Abby Wambach ran to join the fun in a celebration that unleashed a year of bottled-up frustration.
The US women’s soccer team won their third straight Olympic gold medal on Thursday, beating Japan 2-1 in a rematch of last year’s World Cup final and avenging the most painful loss in their history.
Carli Lloyd scored early in both halves, Solo leaped and dived to make saves, and the entire squad found the redemption they had been seeking since that penalty shootout loss in Germany last summer.
“This is the dream that we’ve all been thinking about and feeling for the last year since the World Cup,” Wambach said.
In front of 80,203 at Wembley Stadium, a record crowd for a women’s soccer game at the Olympics, the teams put on a back-and-forth, don’t-turn-your-head soccer showcase, proving again that they are the two premier teams in the world.
Women’s soccer is still in its formative stages in Britain, but the match proved more than worthy for the hallowed ground of the beautiful game.
“I just kept pounding my chest, going: ‘Guys, this is only about heart. We’ll all tired, every player on the field. Twenty-two players on the field are tired,’” Wambach said. “It’s about who wants it more, right here, right now, and today we proved that we did.”
Japan perhaps played just as beautifully as the US, using their speed and discipline to dominate possession and create chances for long stretches, before finally cutting a 2-0 deficit in half with about 30 minutes to go.
“The result was tough on us, but I’m glad to get a medal,” Yukari Kinga said. “We just wanted to challenge ourselves. We weren’t relaxed, but we weren’t nervous. We just wanted to enjoy the game. We didn’t give up until the very last moment.”
Back home, the US was paying attention — just as it was last year and despite the rest of the Olympic events. Even US President Barack Obama, during a campaign speech at Colorado College during the second half of the game, noted: “The women are doing pretty good right now in soccer.”
Lloyd’s goals came in the eighth and 54th minutes, making it four goals in the tournament for the midfielder who lost her long-held starting job weeks before the Olympics. She got back on the pitch when Shannon Boxx injured her hamstring in the opening game and has started every game since.
Yuki Ogimi answered in the 63rd minute and Asuna Tanaka nearly scored an equalizer in the 83rd — only to be thwarted when Solo flung her body to the left to push the ball away.
The US have won four of the five Olympic titles since women’s soccer was introduced at the 1996 Atlanta Games, settling for mere silver at the 2000 Games in Sydney.
In the first half, Japan were unfortunate not to have a penalty awarded for a clear handball by US midfielder Tobin Heath, who stuck out her left arm to stop a free-kick inside the area.
Japan also had two shots hit the crossbar, one off the left hand of a leaping Solo, who was kept consistently busy for the first time in the tournament.
The closest the US came to doubling their lead in the first 45 minutes came when Azusa Iwashimizu attempted to clear a routine ball played in front of the goal and headed it off the post.
The US goal in the eighth minute began with a run by Heath down the left side. She fed Alex Morgan, who controlled the ball near the goal-line, spun and chipped it toward Wambach. Wambach raised her left foot for the shot, but Lloyd charged in and got to it first, her strong running header beating goalkeeper Miho Fukumoto from close range.