Golden redemption belongs to the U.S. women's soccer team after defeating Japan in the gold medal match at the London 2012 Olympics. For Abby Wambach and the U.S. women, the 2-1 win goes a long way toward erasing the stinging defeat to Japan in the final of the 2011 World Cup.
Carli Lloyd opened the scoring for the United States in the 8th minute, capping a relentless run up the middle of the park by heading home a cross from Alex Morgan, the heroine of the U.S. semifinal win over Canada. Wambach was poised in the penalty area waiting to volley the cross but Lloyd burst into the box to nod it past Japanese goalkeeper Miho Fukumoto. The 30-year-old New Jersey native would double the lead in the 54th minute.
"I think I just come up big in big moments. That's what I've trained for," Lloyd said after game, via The Associated Press. "I worked my butt off day-in and day-out. I don't think there's anybody that works harder than I do. I was on a mission this Olympics to prove everybody wrong, and that's what I did. To show everybody that I belong on the field."
A star for the U.S. during the 2008 World Cup, Lloyd had fallen out of favor with coach Pia Sundhage and only was called into the starting lineup as an injury replacement earlier in the Olympic tournament. Coming off the bench, Lloyd scored the match-winning goal during the U.S. comeback triumph over France to begin the road to Wembley.
"She proved that I was wrong and that I'm not that perfect," Sundhage said after Lloyd's brace provided the winning margin, via Jeff Kassouf of NBC.
The reigning World Cup champions did not fold, pulling a goal back by way of Yuki Ogimi in the 63rd minute. Held at bay by U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo on either side of the intermission, Japan could not find an equalizer.
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Pressed into frequent duty during the match, Solo made (at least) one save likely to be remembered as long as these latest gold medals for the U.S. team hold their luster. In the 85th minute with Japan desperate to force extra time, Solo made a massive stop to preserve the slim lead.
Quickly hailed as "the save heard 'round the world" on Twitter, this was hardly the only memorable moment authored by Solo. The 31-year-old goalie, who has been at least as vocal as she has been dominant during a standout career as the U.S. netminder, also made an athletic play to tip a shot up into the crossbar not long after Lloyd's opening goal. Aside from being aided by defenders clearing balls off the line on more than one occasion, Solo was spared having to face a penalty shot thanks to a key no-call on a potential hand ball by U.S. midfielder Tobin Heath in the first half. Undaunted by the no-call and the U.S. lead, Japan continued to work the ball up the middle of the field with quick passes and press for a goal.
"In the last 20 minutes, we knew they were going to do whatever it took to get that equalizer," Wambach said after the game, per Martin Rogers of Yahoo! Sports. "I said, 'Guys, this is all about heart now. We're all tired. It's about who wants it more.'"
When these two teams tangled in the final of the 2011 World Cup, the outcome was heartbreaking for the U.S. team. After the two teams completed extra time deadlocked at two goals apiece, the match was decided from the penalty spot after. In that taut affair, the Japanese found the late equalizer(s) that evaded them in the gold medal final, with Aya Miyama scoring late in regulation to force extra time and Homare Sawa pulling the Nadeshiko level again late in extra time. Ever since Japan emerged victorious from the penalty shootout, 3-1, the U.S. women have been counting down the days to London.
"I think the fact that we lost the World Cup and the way that we did gives us even more passion and desire to go out and perform tomorrow," Wambach told reporters on Wednesday. "The truth is, this is going to be a great day, a great day for soccer, a great day for women's sports, and something that hopefully we'll be able to remember for the rest of our lives – and hopefully it's in a good way."
Presumably, Wambach and her teammates will remember this trip to Wembley in "a good way," as will U.S. soccer fans. The 2-1 win gives the U.S. women's soccer team its third straight Olympic gold medal and fourth overall. With 80,203 fans at Wembley, according to FoxSoccer, the gold medal match was also the best attended women's Olympic soccer match ever.