Women's Olympic Soccer Final: U.S. Beats Japan 2-1, To Win Gold
In Olympic women's soccer, the U.S. team has beaten Japan, 2-1, in the gold medal match at London's Wembley Stadium, a game that set a new attendance record with more than 80,000 spectators. Carli Lloyd scored both of the American goals, while U.S. stars Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach weren't able to finish their chances. But they were very active, and both players kept the Japanese defenders occupied around the goal.
The fans were hoping for a game as exciting as the 2011 World Cup final, when the same two teams fought to a 2-2 tie before needing penalty kicks to decide the champion. Japan won that match, and the two teams split their games in 2012, along with a tie.
Update at 5:30 p.m. ET:
"We made it way too exciting, but that's good for the fans, I guess," coach Pia Sundhage told NBC — which also caught the coach on video as she danced to "Born in the USA" after the game.
"I think Japan played very well," she added. "Give credit to our defending, and give credit to our counter-attack."
Asked about her decision not to use Lloyd as a starter as the Olympic tournament began, Sundhage said she had been proven wrong — and that she was very happy about it.
"I was ready for the moment," Lloyd told NBC after the match. "Hard work pays off."
Asked about Sundhage's earlier admission that she had been wrong not to put more trust in Lloyd, the player said, "When someone tells me I can't do something, I'm going to always prove them wrong. That's what champions do."
"This goes out to all of our fans who cheered us on last summer," Abby Wambach told NBC after the match. "It was a team effort for this entire tournament. It shows what it takes" to win the gold medal, she said.
Wambach added that the win ensures that she won't have bad memories about the London Games for the rest of her life, after falling short at the World Cup.
"This means everything to us," she said.
The gold medal match featured aggressive play and excellent goal-keeping, and Japan seemed determined that Wambach and Morgan would not be the players who beat them. In the end, they weren't — but Lloyd and her U.S. teammates played well enough to make up for that.
After the match, players mixed hugs in with the handshakes. And the American players put on T-shirts that said, "Greatness Has Been Found."
Canada won the bronze medal — and its star Christine Sinclair won the Golden Boot for scoring the most goals in the tournament, with six. Team USA's Abby Wambach finished with five goals.
We live-blogged the gold medal match, here at The Torch:
4:33 p.m. ET: The game is over, and the U.S. women's team has won their third consecutive gold medal in the Olympics.
4:32 p.m. ET: We're 1:30 into extra time, past 90 minutes.
4:29 p.m. ET: Wambach gets a yellow card for a tackle in which she seemed to have forgotten how big she is. Her trailing leg cleared the Japanese player out. Japan couldn't do anything with the free kick.
4:28 p.m. ET: A corner kick from Cheney finds Wambach, but she's unable to send the ball into the back of the net. Perhaps Wambach's best chance of the match; she just got under it to send it high.
4:26 p.m. ET: With 4 minutes left in the match, Japan stops a U.S. attack. Then a foul by Cheney near midfield gives them possession again.
4:24 p.m. ET: Morgan sprawls out after a foul. Free kick for the U.S. Wambach heads the ball, but wide left of the goal.
4:23 p.m. ET: Japan's Iwabuchi put an excellent shot on goal, but had it saved by Solo. She stole it from Rampone and sent an angling shot that Solo speared.
4:22 p.m. ET: U.S. gets a free kick after Wambach gets slammed in the back. Lloyd launches a long, low streaking left-footed shot, and it rises just over the bar.
4:20 p.m. ET: U.S. bench is yelling, trying to get officials to see that Buehler is hurt. She comes off, and Becky Sauerbrunn runs on.
4:18 p.m. ET: Lloyd nearly gets a yellow card and earns lots of loud boos from the crowd for a late tackle.
4:16 p.m. ET: Official attendance of 80,203 is a record for Olympic women's soccer.
4:16 p.m. ET: With 15 minutes left in the match, Morgan threatens, but can't do anything with it.
4:14 p.m. ET: The ball goes in, and Solo can't clear. Another shot goes in, and off Le Pelbeit's chest. Then a penalty is called on Japan, to end the threat. A player had jumped on Lloyd, essentially.
4:13 p.m. ET: A handball is called on Lloyd, outside the box. Free kick Japan.
4:12 p.m. ET: Miyama sends a ball in to threaten, but Wambach heads it clear. Corner Japan. They kick it in low.
4:11 p.m. ET: Ohno earns a free kick.
4:09 p.m. ET: On the penalty, Cheney sets up Buehler, who shoots. Saved by Fukumotu.
4:08 p.m. ET: Japan launched spirited counter-attack, but Rampone won the ball back and sprinted back across to lead a U.S. attack. Then Wambach went down after getting kicked in the ankle. Penalty on Japan.
4:06 p.m. ET: Japan's Miyama shoots, after a cycle of passes across the top of the penalty box. But safely out of bounds.
4:04 p.m. ET: The stadium's noise level has shot up, as Japan got a corner kick. But Solo leapt through the crowd to catch it and end the threat. Still, Japan seems to be fully in this game. Not ready to accept silver just yet.
4:03 p.m. ET: Japan scores to make it 2-1, as Sawa put a failed clearing pass into the net.
3:59 p.m. ET: Sakaguchi goes off — and as she reaches the sideline, she pauses to turn and bow to the field, and the players.
3:57 p.m. ET: Megan Rapinoe goes off, and Lauren Cheney comes on for the U.S.
3:56 p.m. ET: Wambach heads a long ball — in defense. U.S. counter-attacks again, and Morgan shoots and misses.
3:54 p.m. ET: Carli Lloyd creates a phenomenal shot for herself, taking the ball near midfield and then unleashing a right-footed shot from the corner of the box. Back of the net in the left corner, to make it 2-0. Japanese defenders seemed preoccupied with Wambach and Morgan nearby.
3:54 p.m. ET: U.S. clears a threat away and puts on a counter-attack.
3:52 p.m. ET: Christie Rampone runs a ball off to ensure the Japanese don't get a corner kick. Rampone is 37 years old, by the way.
3:51 p.m. ET: A nice pass from Morgan loops toward Wambach on the far side of the goal, but the Japanese goalie's seen this movie before. She punches it away.
3:50 p.m. ET: The corner didn't threaten, and Lloyd eventually lost possession.
3:49 p.m. ET: Morgan takes an errant pass down the left side and kicks it out off of a Japanese defender, to earn a corner. By the way, Megan Rapinoe seems to have her hands full in the midfield, as the U.S. team is drifting defenders back to their own line.
3:47 p.m. ET: Defending a free kick, Hope Solo leapt out to punch the ball — just as Buehler and Kumagai plunged toward her. All went down. All seem OK.
3:45 p.m. ET: Howard Berkes describes what he calls a moment of mutual respect: "In the 43rd minute, Abby Wambach accidentally kicked Japanese player Saki Kumagai in the face. Then bends over her, puts a hand on her shoulder, seeming to see if she's OK. No foul called."
3:40 p.m. ET: Quick summary of the first half: U.S. has a 1-0 lead, after owning the first 10 minutes, including a low header by Carli Lloyd. But Japan settled into the game, creating dangerous chances for themselves. They failed to score thanks to a mix of bad luck and excellent defense and goalkeeping.
American midfielder Tobin Heath has played a very nice game — with the exception of what many will call a hand ball. On replays, her arm went well away from her body to trap the ball.
Oh, and technical difficulties made this whole live-blogging thing a bit of a struggle, so I apologize if that became a distraction.
3:30 p.m. ET: That's the first half, as Japan can't do anything with a free shot on the U.S. side. Japan's Homare Sawa, star of last year's World Cup, goes down and takes a while to get up.
3:28 p.m. Wambach is kept from a nifty shot by Japanese defender Kumagai, who nearly gets a boot in the face for her trouble. Kumagai is working hard — her jersey is one of the dirtiest on the field.
3:26 p.m. ET: Carli Lloyd ran the ball into the center of the Japanese half, and let loose a hard shot. Saved without too much worry by Fukumoto.
3:24 p.m. ET: Wambach goes down as she runs toward the Japanese box, and the crowd boos.
3:23 p.m. ET: For Japan, Ohno and Kawasumi are having wonderful games. For the U.S., Carli Lloyd is playing extremely well, and Alex Morgan is really preoccupying the Japanese defenders.
3:21 p.m. ET: Ohno sends a shot just wide from the center of the pitch. It curled out but didn't quite cut its way back into the goal, striking the side post.
3:18 p.m. ET: Midfielder Miyama sends a shot roaring at Hope Solo's goal. Knocks the top crossbar on the way out of play.
3:15 p.m. ET: Corner for the U.S. Chants of "U-S-A" in Wembley. Cleared away.
3:14 p.m. ET: A Japanese player goes down in the box, but ball had been kicked away, in a nice play by defender Rachel Buehler.
3:12 p.m. ET: Lloyd sends a long, burning shot toward goal, which is touched by the goalie — but it still dings the left post and ricochets away.
3:10 p.m. ET: Japan has a free kick from outside the left corner of the box. Didn't make it past the three-player wall — because the ball hit a U.S. player's arm. No hand-ball called.
3:09 p.m. ET: Japan took control on a nifty steal, and settled into the offensive side, only to send a weak shot looping toward Solo.
3:06 p.m. ET: The teams are trading possession in the midfield area, playing tighter defense.
3:03 p.m. ET: Solo knocks a ball away, after a long pass from Japan was headed toward goal.
3:02 p.m. ET: Japan's Homare Sawa takes the ball deep next to the U.S. goal and crosses it back. Save by U.S. goalie Hope Solo, then another save.. by Rampone, it seems. Solo had moved forward a bit.
3:01 p.m. ET: Japan seems to have settled down, controlling at midfield with crisp passes.
3 p.m. ET: Corner gets centered and sent out toward midfield. Japan defuses the threat.
2:59 p.m. ET: U.S. gets a corner kick.
2:54 p.m. ET: But wait — Carli Lloyd was there, as well, and gets credit for the goal, instead of Wambach. She headed it in, instead of Wambach, who had raised her left foot to strike it. Scoring credit has been officially changed.
2:52 p.m. ET: Abby Wambach scores to make it 1-0. A pass from Alex Morgan deep on the left crossed the front of the goal to the right side, where Wambach waited.
2:52 p.m. ET: Alex Morgan goes down as she runs on a pass from Lloyd. No call.
2:51 p.m. ET: The Japanese put together a run down the left side, but the ball outruns the striker.
2:49 p.m. ET: Alex Morgan slips past Japan's defender and lets one rip from the left side, but it's saved by Fukumoto.
An early threat is turned away, as a deep pass isn't cleared until late.
Our original post:
With only 15 minutes remaining before the game, NPR's Howard Berkes reports that there are "hundreds, maybe thousands, of empty seats" in Wembley.
The American and Japanese teams know each other well by now. Since Japan's penalty-kick victory over the U.S. last July, the two teams have played each other several times.
"Japan definitely plays more of a possession style," Wambach told NBC's Al Michaels last night. "They're going to try to slow the game down as much as possible, and get us to move defensively, so that we expend a lot of energy in that way. And I think we want to speed the game up and attack, and get as many chances on goal as possible."
Asked if she believed the team could do that, Wambach said, "Absolutely. That's why we're here. We're prepared."
Prior to that World Cup loss, the Japanese women had never beaten the U.S. team in 25 matches. In 2012, the two teams have split their three matches, with one tie.
For the Americans, one big change since 2011 is the emergence of Alex Morgan, who has scored crucial goals for her team in the London Olympics.
Morgan says that her role has now "opened up a little bit to stretching the back line, but switching up the roles with Abby (Wambach) a little bit and being a little more unpredictable."
And like Wambach, Morgan feels ready for this rematch.
"I don't have nightmares about last year," she said. "We've been wanting this match since last year. We've been looking forward to it. This tournament could've gone so many different ways."
This is the second Olympics for Wambach, 32, who was part of the U.S. team at the Athens 2004 Games, but missed out on the Beijing 2008 Games after she broke her leg.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And I'm Melissa Block. In this hour of the program, we begin with the Olympics, and first, the outcome of the much-anticipated rematch between the U.S. and Japan in women's soccer. In last year's World Cup final, Japan beat the U.S. and broke the team's heart. Well, tonight, before a record-setting 80,000 people at London's Wembley Stadium, the U.S. triumphed, winning 2-1. NPR's Howard Berkes was at the stadium for the game, and he joins us now. And, Howard, this was a game that the U.S. team talked about as a chance for redemption against Japan, and it was a thriller. What were the keys, do you think, behind the U.S. victory?
HOWARD BERKES, BYLINE: Well, this was a very exciting match, and you had two really key players making it happened. Carli Lloyd scored two goals for the United States, and Hope Solo who blocked I don't know how many I've lost count of how many blocks she successfully engineered and maneuvered...
BLOCK: The goalkeeper, yeah, Hope Solo.
BERKES: ...blocks - the goalkeeper. This was a game in which both Japan and the United States were in each other's territory a lot throughout the game. There were a lot of shots on goal, and it took both goalkeepers an enormous amount of skill to keep that ball from going in the net. And, you know, it only went in three times: two for the United States, one for Japan.
BLOCK: And a clean game too, Howard, a real contrast with the very physical semifinal match that the U.S. played this week against Canada.
BERKES: No. And this is exactly what Abby Wambach, from the United States, predicted before the game. These are two teams that respect each other, that know each other well. They're friends. They hugged each other before the game. They hugged each other after the game. They hugged each other at the pregame news conference yesterday, and they talked about the respect they have for each other, and they said it would not be the kind of wild rough game that there was with Canada. Still, there were some major penalties, but still, overall, it was a pretty clean game, a game between two teams that respect each other.
BLOCK: Interesting, Howard, the U.S. women have now won gold in all the Olympics, except for one since 1996. This year, though, the men's U.S. team didn't even qualify for the Olympics.
BERKES: No, no. The men's team, you know, the women have really been the hope of soccer in the United States. They've really been the focus of the attention because they've been so consistent over the years. This is their third gold medal in a row, fourth overall. They have dominated the Olympic tournament. They've been very strong in the World Cup as well.
BLOCK: And a raucous crowd, an Olympic record for a women's soccer match there at Wembley Stadium. It must have been quite a night. Howard, thanks so much.
BERKES: You're welcome.
BLOCK: That's NPR's Howard Berkes talking about the gold-medal game in women's soccer tonight. The U.S. beat Japan 2-1. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.