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.
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.
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.