Aug 9, 2012; London, United Kingdom; USA celebrates with their gold medals after defeating Japan in the gold medal match during the London 2012 Olympic Games at Wembley Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

USA Vs. Japan, 2012 Olympics: Americans Win The Gold

Carli Lloyd was the hero for the U.S. with two goals, but it also took some Hope Solo magic to hold off Japan, 2-1, for gold.

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USA Vs. Japan, 2012 Olympics: Final Score, USWNT Holds On For 2-1 Win To Capture Gold Medal

It's been just over a year since the United States fell to Japan on penalties in the World Cup final, but they have captured their revenge. For the third consecutive Olympic games, the USWNT have grabbed a gold medal in women's soccer. Japan was excellent for most of the match, but two great goals by the United States earned the Americans a 2-1 victory.

Carli Lloyd was the hero for the USWNT, just like she was in the gold medal match in 2008. Her opening goal came in the 8th minute on an excellent cross by Alex Morgan. The floating ball to the back post appeared to be intended for Abby Wambach, but Lloyd came out of nowhere with a terrific late run into the box and a header into the back of the net to give her team the lead.

Japan had a couple of excellent opportunities to equalize shortly afterwards, but couldn't capitalize. Christie Rampone had to make a late clearance off the line on a shot by Nahomi Kawasumi in the 17th minute, which was followed up less than a minute later by a brilliant Hope Solo save onto the crossbar to deny Yuki Ogimi.

In the 25th minute, Japan had their first of two penalty shots. Tobin Heath stuck out her arm and clearly handled the ball following a free kick, but no penalty was given. Early in the second half, an even more obvious penalty offense was committed by Rachel Buehler, who rugby tackled Saki Kumagai. Incredibly, no penalty was given. Buehler was shaky throughout the match, and was eventually replaced by Becky Sauerbrunn in the 80th minute.

Despite Japan's numerous chances and penalty shouts the United States scored two goals before Japan could manage one. Once again, the finish came from Lloyd. Her first goal was impressive, but her second was truly spectacular and one of the best goals of the tournament. She dribbled her way through multiple defenders and towards the edge of the penalty area, then hit a rocket into the side of the net at the far post.

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Eventually, Japan would stop merely coming close to scoring and finally punched the ball into the back of the net. They couldn't do it in a straight-forward manner, however, as the United States nearly dodged another bullet in the 63rd minute. After multiple blocks and a mad scramble, Yuki Ogimi eventually poked home a finish to cut the United States lead and bring Japan into the match.

The United States did not deal with their one-goal lead well in the first half, but Ogimi's goal seemed to be a bit of a wake-up call, and the Americans defended much better in the second half than they did in the first. Japan did have one great opportunity to equalize, but unlike their other chances, it came as the product of a gift and not their spectacular build-up play.

Rampone committed a terrible giveaway in her own end in the 83rd minute, allowing substitute Asuna Tanaka to get through on goal. She attempted to curl a shot around Solo, but the USWNT goalkeeper made a spectacular diving save to preserve the lead.

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That would be the last great chance that Japan would produce in the match. Japan played excellent football throughout the Olympic final, but Solo's heroics and a little bit of luck kept the United States from conceding more than once.

For the fourth time, the United States women's soccer team are gold medalists at the Olympics.

You can find all of our previous coverage of the final in our USA Vs. Japan, London 2012 Olympics StoryStream. For more on the entire world of soccer, follow @SBNationSoccer on twitter.

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USA Vs. Japan, 2012 Olympics: Carli Lloyd Issues A Reply To Her Army Of Haters

If you are not a close follower of the United States women's soccer community on social media outlets, you might not be aware that there is a very large legion of fans who do not like midfielder Carli Lloyd. The animus doesn't necessarily have anything to do with Lloyd as a person, or any dirty play on the pitch. It's mostly because she has a nasty habit of firing lots of shots over the crossbar. Her offenses in the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup were fairly egregious.

I am not a Carli Lloyd hater, per se, but I certainly think that Shannon Boxx and Lauren Cheney are better options. Heck, I thought that winger/sometimes central player Tobin Heath was a better central midfielder than Lloyd. I even prefer Lori Lindsey, the often-injured Leslie Osborne, Yael Averbuch ... I could probably name a lot of American central midfielders I liked better than Lloyd coming into the Olympics.

But I was wrong. Lloyd's six goals in the CONCACAF qualifying tournament tied Abby Wambach and Amy Rodriguez for tops on Team USA, and she currently has four goals at the Olympics. She scored the opening goal of the gold medal final against Japan with a great header on a late run into the box. Japan controlled the rest of the first half, and the United States needed a big shot in the arm to start the second half. Lloyd provided it.

Lloyd spent good parts of 2010 and 2011 firing shots over the crossbar, but she's followed up her performance at the CONCACAF qualifying tournament with some quality goals, including this stellar strike. It's the kind of goal she didn't score for a very long time before 2012, and to be completely honest, it's the kind of goal that the United States' other central midfielders struggle to produce.

Welcome back, Carli.

Follow along with our live coverage of the final in our USA Vs. Japan, London 2012 Olympics StoryStream.

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USA Vs. Japan, 2012 Olympics: Halftime Score, Carli Lloyd's Goal Has USWNT Up 1-0

After 45 minutes of play, the United States have a 1-0 lead over Japan in the gold medal match for women's soccer in the 2012 Olympics, but they've dodged quite a few bullets to get into halftime with a clean sheet.

The United States got off to a brilliant start in the opening 10 minutes of the match. Alex Morgan was their most active player early, setting up a half-chance with a knocked down header in the 2nd minute and producing a shot on target in the 3rd minute. In the 6th minute, she was taken down by Saki Kumagai, but no foul was given. Two minutes after that, her hard work was finally rewarded.

Carli Lloyd scored the game's opening goal in the 8th minute off of a fantastic assist from Morgan. Tobin Heath played a great ball into the box low for Morgan, who turned and floated a cross to the back post. Abby Wambach was waiting to volley it into the back of the net, but she was beaten to the ball by Lloyd's late run into the box. The USWNT midfielder got her head onto the ball and powered it into the net, giving the United States a 1-0 lead.

While the United States played well and certainly held their own for the rest of the half, there's no question that Japan was the much better side after the early goal. They had two spectacular back-to-back clearances cleared away in unlucky fashion less than 10 minutes after the goal.

Christie Rampone made a great 17th minute clearance on a shot by Nahomi Kawasumi, and her rebound attempt pinballed around between her, Rachel Buehler and Hope Solo before going out of play. Less than a minute after that, Solo produced her best save of the tournament.

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Solo was a bit out of position and didn't react as quickly as she usually does on the header by Yuki Ogimi, but recovered excellently to tip the shot onto the crossbar and deny Japan an equalizer.

Japan should have had a penalty kick mid-way through the first half, but referee Bibiana Steinhaus didn't spot it. Following a free kick, Heath handled the ball clearly, with her arm out in her own penalty area, but it wasn't caught by officials and the United States was let off the hook.

Three minutes later, Japanese defender Azusa Iwashimizu almost scored an all-time classic own goal. On a ball into the box by Lloyd, she jumped to clear the ball away from Morgan with a header. Unfortunately, she didn't keep the ball clear of her net. This was the result.

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Why she thought that was a good idea, no one will ever know.

Japan would have two more excellent chances before the end of the half, but was unable to capitalize on their opportunities. In the 34th minute, Shinobu Ohno set up Aya Miyama for a great opportunity, but Miyama's shot from 12 yards out hit against the crossbar and went out for a goal kick. Shortly afterwards, in the 37th minute, Ogimi set up Ohno for a shot at the end of a great long passing build-up. Ogimi played a perfect layoff ball with her back to goal, but Ohno's curled shot went just wide of the far post.

The United States' first eight minutes were promising and ultimately produced a goal against a Japan team that started poorly, but they're lucky that they didn't concede an equalizer. In last year's World Cup final, the United States also took a 1-0 lead against a Japanese team that kept the ball better than they did, and eventually ended up losing that match. Japan has too much quality to fail to score while playing this way for another 45 minutes.

You can find all of our live coverage of the final in our USA Vs. Japan, London 2012 Olympics StoryStream. For more on the entire world of soccer, follow @SBNationSoccer on twitter.

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USA Vs. Japan, 2012 Olympics: Carli Lloyd Puts USWNT Ahead 1-0

The USA gets on the board first thanks to a great bit of teamwork. Tobin Heath made a smart run down the right side and found Alex Morgan with a low cross at the near post. Morgan took the touch, calmly turned and sent the ball across the face of goal where a charging Carli Lloyd headed the ball home. Abby Wambach looked to be Morgan's initial target, but I doubt she'll mind one bit having Lloyd basically take the ball off her foot.

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You really couldn't have asked for a better run of play from the US attack. It's a dream start for the USA and not the way Japan wanted to start this gold medal match. The goal came in the 8th minute and is Carli Lloyd's 39th international goal.

Japan hasn't looked very fluid early in the match and has failed to put any pressure on the USA defense that had their struggles against Canada. No matter the cause, it's a much better start for the USWNT compared to their semifinal.

Follow along with our live coverage of the final in our USA Vs. Japan, London 2012 Olympics StoryStream.

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USA Vs. Japan, 2012 Olympics: Lineups

The lineups have been set for the women's soccer final at the London 2012 Olympics between the United States and Japan, and there's only one decision of note in either team's lineup. Lauren Cheney has been kept out of the team in favor of Carli Lloyd, Shannon Boxx and Tobin Heath. The USWNT began the Olympics with Cheney as the starter in the center of midfield, but she's lost her place due to Boxx's return to fitness and Lloyd's surprising form. Japan's lineup is unchanged from

United States lineup (4-4-2): Hope Solo; Kelley O'Hara, Christie Rampone, Rachel Buehler, Amy LePeilbet; Tobin Heath, Shannon Boxx, Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe; Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach

Japan lineup (4-4-2): Miho Fukumoto; Aya Samshima, Saki Kumagai, Azusa Iwashimizu, Yukari Kinga; Aya Miyama, Mizuho Sakaguchi, Homare Sawa, Nahomi Kawasumi; Shinobu Ohno, Yuki Ogimi

Kickoff is at 2:45 p.m. ET, 7:45 p.m. local time from Wembley Stadium in London. The game can be seen on NBC Sports Network in the United States.

We’ll have news and features in the build-up to our live coverage of the final in our USA Vs. Japan, London 2012 Olympics StoryStream.

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USA Vs. Japan, 2012 Olympics: What's Changed Since The World Cup Final?

Even though they had the more experienced players and a history of success, the United States women's national team did not enter their 2011 World Cup final against Japan as heavy favorites. The Japanese knocked off tournament hosts and favorites Germany in the quarterfinals, then thoroughly outplayed a strong Sweden team that had previously defeated the United States in the semifinals. They looked like a well-oiled machine, and they knew exactly what their best team was.

The United States, in contrast, was still tinkering all the way to the final. Lauren Cheney was moved from left midfield, where she had played the entire tournament, to forward. Megan Rapinoe took Cheney's spot, while Amy Rodriguez was dropped to the bench. With no disrespect intended to Rodriguez, the move was a long time coming. Keeping both Rapinoe and Alex Morgan on the bench never made much sense.

Cheney didn't put a performance that lived up to her fantastic games in midfield earlier in the tournament, and she was withdrawn for Morgan, who scored the game's opening goal. In a spectacular final 20 minutes of regular time and 30 minutes of extra time, Japan found a way to equalize twice. First, in the 80th minute to force extra time, then again in the 117th minute to cancel out Abby Wambach's extra time goal and force penalties. The United States would go on to miss its first three spot kicks and Japan hoisted the cup after a 3-1 shootout victory.

The two teams have played three times since then, with the United States improving each time. With Rapinoe on the bench and Rodriguez trying out a new position, at right midfield, Japan beat the United states 1-0 in Portugal back in March. They met again in Japan in April, this time with a lineup that looks a little more like the current setup of the USWNT. Rapinoe still wasn't in the team, but Heather O'Reilly, a natural winger, was back on the right in a 1-1 draw, with Morgan scoring for the United States.

Japan and the United States last met just under seven weeks ago, in an exhibition tournament in Sweden. With Pia Sundhage finally playing both Rapinoe and Morgan, with Cheney moved into the center of midfield -- the team the USWNT has played throughout the Olympics -- the United States defeated Japan 4-1. Abby Wambach and Morgan both scored twice and the USWNT registered 11 shots on target to Japan's two.

Because of that result and Japan's two unconvincing draws earlier in the tournament, the United States enters Thursday's Olympic final as slight favorites over the team that beat them in the World Cup final just over a year ago. However, it's worth noting that Japan was without two of its first choice defenders in that friendly, Aya Sameshima and Saki Kumagai.

The difference made by the absence of two defenders of their caliber, in addition to the chemistry shake-up on the back line, could have tipped the scales considerably in the USWNT's favor. Japan's defense is extremely well-organized, and the chemistry that the back four have with goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori and defensive midfielder Mizuho Sakaguchi is critical. With all six players in the lineup together, Japan shouldn't let in four goals.

Sundhage has a better idea of what her best team looks like than she did before the World Cup final. The new players that she's introduced into the first team, who were substitutes in that final, are now on top form. The United States is a better team now than it was in 2011.

We’ll have news and features in the build-up to our live coverage of the final in our USA Vs. Japan, London 2012 Olympics StoryStream.

Check out the SB Nation Channel on YouTube

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USA Vs. Japan, 2012 Olympics: How Japan Got To The Gold Medal Game

Japan played some solid defense, but has needed some good luck to advance to the Olympic gold medal match.

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USA Vs. Japan, 2012 Olympics: Game Time, TV Schedule, Live Streaming And More

The United States takes on Japan in a World Cup rematch as it tries to win its third straight Olympics gold medal.

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Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe Emerge As Stars From Super-Sub Roles

At the 2011 World Cup, Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe were the United States' two star attacking subs. Now, they're the team's best players.

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How The USWNT Made Me Care About International Soccer Again

The United States men's national team is often agonizing to watch, and men's club soccer is always better than international soccer. The opposite is true of the women's game and the USWNT.

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