The U.S. beat Japan to win its third straight Olympic women’s soccer title and set up a victory tour at a time the sport needs a boost in North America.
U.S. midfielder Carli Lloyd scored two goals to secure a 2-1 victory in front of a crowd of 80,203 at London’s Wembley stadium last night, the biggest to watch a women’s soccer match at the Olympics. Yuki Ogimi got Japan’s goal in the 63rd minute to set up a tense last half hour.
“This is pretty crazy,” Lloyd, 30, said after the game. “Back in Beijing I scored the only goal against Brazil, and now I have scored two goals in the final here. Maybe for my third Olympic final I’m going to have to score a hat trick.”
The match was a repeat of last year’s Women’s World Cup final, which Japan won in a penalty shootout. The U.S. players pulled on T-shirts with the slogan “greatness has been found” as they celebrated on the pitch after the final whistle.
“I guess after we had our dreams snatched away from us last year, we’ve snatched their dreams away from them this year so it evens itself out,” U.S. midfielder Megan Rapinoe, 27, told reporters.
The U.S. team, led by Swedish coach Pia Sundhage, will split a $1.5 million bonus from U.S. Soccer for winning the gold medal, said Sunil Gulati, the governing body’s president. In addition, each player will receive a $25,000 bonus from the U.S. Olympic Committee.
The financial boost comes at a critical time for the U.S. players, who have no professional teams to join back home. The Women’s Professional Soccer league folded in May after three seasons and a legal battle with former team owner Dan Borislow, Chief Executive Officer of MagicJack Vocaltec Ltd.
Another professional league, the Women’s United Soccer Association, also ceased operations after three seasons in 2003. Efforts to create a new competition starting in 2013 are ongoing and some players are looking abroad because of the uncertainty.
The U.S. has appeared in all five finals since women’s soccer first appeared at the Olympics in 1996. Its only defeat in the gold-medal match was at the 2000 games in Sydney, where Norway took the title.
The Americans took the lead in the eighth minute last night when Lloyd stooped to head home a cross from Alex Morgan.
Japan was unable to turn 58 percent of first-half possession into goals, twice hitting the frame of the goal. U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo, 31, dived to her left to push a shot from Ogimi onto the crossbar in the 17th minute.
The Japanese coaching staff were on their feet eight minutes later when German referee Bibiana Steinhaus missed a handball in the penalty area by Tobin Heath.
“It was a clear handball,” Lloyd said. “It hit her arm. That’s just how it goes.”
Lloyd made it 2-0 in the 54th minute when she drove a right-foot shot from outside the penalty area into the bottom left corner.
Japan’s pressure was rewarded in the 63rd minute when Ogimi tapped home from close range after the U.S. defense failed to clear. As Japan pressed upfield in search of a tying goal, Lloyd had a chance to score on an 82nd-minute counterattack, though shot over the bar.
U.S. captain Christie Rampone, 37, who became the first player to win four Olympic soccer medals, almost gifted Japan a goal a minute later when she lost the ball to Mana Iwabuchi in the penalty area. She was rescued by a save from Solo.
“I felt we could come back, but unfortunately we couldn’t get the result in the end,” Ogimi, 25, told reporters.
The champions have been told there will be a tour of the U.S. involving as many as 10 matches as a result of their success at the London games, where a total of 661,796 spectators watched the women’s soccer tournament.
Two matches have so far been confirmed, against Costa Rica on Sept. 1 in Rochester, New York, hometown of forward Abby Wambach, 32, and against Australia on Sept. 16 in Carson, California.
The lack of league soccer made preparation for the Olympic tournament difficult, Sundhage told reporters on Aug. 8. The team had to use exhibition matches and games against men’s teams to tune up, the coach said.
“This year has been trials and tribulations,” Wambach said. “We lost to Japan a few times, and this win feels like everything has come full circle. I’m so proud of this team for never giving up.”