USA Women's Soccer: Redemption
Peggy Shinn, USA Soccer
London, England (August 10, 2012)
It was a game of redemption for Team USA. A chance to face again on the world stage the foes who outkicked them for the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup title last year.
"This is about who wants it more," said Abby Wambach, the U.S.'s leading scorer in the Olympic tournament, in a pre-match press conference. Wambach missed the 2008 Olympic Games with a broken leg, and the 32-year-old striker was a key player on the 2011 World Cup team.
Last night (Aug. 9), in front of 80,203 exuberant fans in venerable Wembley Stadium -- the most ever to attend an Olympic women's soccer game -- both teams wanted it. But the U.S. women played like they wanted it more. They already had one silver medal too many.
Even Japanese coach Norio Sasaki knew of the U.S. team's desire.
"Maybe USA have the greater drive to win, and we know this USA team is very motivated to avenge the world cup defeat," he said before the game. "So we need to be as one in order to strengthen our own desire to triumph."
From the start, the Japanese team put on a show of unity, huddling before each half while the U.S. players took their places on the field.
The Japanese possessed the ball for 58 percent of the game, with elegant footwork and textbook passes. But while the Japanese looked precise, the Americans looked alive.
As they said they would do, the U.S. women imposed their more direct, aggressive style on the game. And, as Wambach said they must do in order to win, they took advantage of every opportunity they had to score.
Those chances came early. On an assist from Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd charged toward the goal and headed in the ball like a bull. 1-0. The clock read eight minutes.
After dribbling down field, Lloyd found the goal again in the 55th minute. 2-zip. It was a dream way for the 30-year-old midfielder to wrap up an Olympic tournament that began on shaky ground. Pulled off the starting lineup before the Games, she was put back on after Shannon Boxx suffered a hamstring injury. Boxx was back in the gold-medal match though.
And after scoring two goals earlier in the Olympic tournament, so was Lloyd.
Lloyd also scored the gold medal-winning goal against Brazil in the 2008 Olympic Games. With American defenders glued to the Japanese offense, and Hope Solo's leaping and diving saves, they shut down Japan's scoring opportunities in the first half. Japan only converted one scoring opportunity in the second half. In heavy traffic in front of the goal, Yuki Ogimi touched in the ball. 2-1.
As the crowd became more and more animated, chanting U-S-A, U-S-A -- a change from the deafening cheers during the past 10 days for Team GB -- the Americans looked at the clock. "The last 15 minutes were really difficult, Japan was really coming at us," added Morgan, the youngest member of the 2011 World Cup team and an Olympic rookie. "I wanted to celebrate, but we weren't done yet. We needed to finish the job defensively."
The U.S. team's history with Japan in the past 13 months was not great. In the four times the teams have played each other in the past 13 months, Japan held a 2-1-1 lead on the U.S. women.
But in this Olympic tournament, played in historic British stadiums from Glasgow to London's Wembley Stadium, the U.S. team cast themselves as a band of fighters, coming back twice in two separate games during the tournament. In the semifinal game against Canada, they clawed their way back three times, with Morgan finally scoring late in overtime.
Solo called the game with Canada a "kick in the butt" that motivated them to play superlative soccer on a warm Thursday evening.
"Everything that's happened up until now doesn't matter because it's all part of the process," said Wambach. "The fact that we're champions means that we all committed to one central idea. That idea was believing in each other."
That belief in each other led to the 2-1 win over Japan for Team USA's third consecutive gold in women's soccer -- and fourth overall.
"This is the first time in my athletic career, and I've been through a couple major tournaments now, that it really feels like a team through and through, from player #1 through the alternates through 22 players," said Solo. "We knew anybody could step up and make a difference on this team."
Incidentally, the U.S. women also lost the world cup in the years before they won gold at the 1996, 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games.
Asked what the difference is between the 2012 U.S. Olympic Women's Soccer Team and the 2011 World Cup squad, U.S. Head Coach Pia Sundhage said depth, as well as the duo of Wambach and Morgan scoring goals.
"We respect Japan so much, and we were so happy to play them in the final," said Morgan. "It was a little bit of redemption, a little bit of revenge. We're the world champions now. We feel on top of the world now."
The U.S. women's soccer team won its third straight Olympic gold medal Thursday, beating Japan 2-1 in a rematch of last year's World Cup final and avenging the most painful loss in its history.
US Takes Olympic Women's Soccer Gold
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