U.S. women earn Olympic soccer gold with 2-1 win over Japan (+video)

By Joseph White

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Aug. 9 2012 4:34 p.m. MDT

United States' Lauren Cheney, right, celebrates with teammate Shannon Boxx, left, after winning the women's soccer gold medal match against Japan at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in London. The United States won 2-1. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Lefteris Pitarakis, ASSOCIATED PRESS

WEMBLEY, England — Abby Wambach didn't put on her "Greatness Has Been Found" T-shirt right away. She instead strayed from her teammates and knelt alone at midfield — and cried into a U.S. flag.

Yes, greatness has been found. And payback has been achieved.

The Americans are again on top of the women's soccer world.

They won their 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 their history.

Carli Lloyd scored early in both halves, Hope Solo leaped and dived to make saves, and the entire roster found the redemption it had been seeking since that penalty kick shootout loss in Germany last summer.

Before 80,203 fans at Wembley Stadium, a record for a women's soccer game at the Olympics, the teams put on a back-and-forth, don't-turn-your-head soccer showcase, proving again that these are the two premier teams in the world. Women's soccer is still in its formative stages in Britain, but the match proved more than worthy for the hallowed grounds of the beautiful game.

Back home, America was paying attention — just as it was last year and despite all the other Olympic events. Even President Barack Obama, while visiting the U.S. Olympic Committee's training center in Colorado Springs, Colo., offered a "special shout-out" to the women's team for its victory.

At the final whistle, Solo found herself enveloped in a group-hug celebration that unleashed a year of bottled-up frustration. Many of the players paraded with the flag and put on the celebratory T-shirts.

Wambach, the outspoken co-captain who missed the Beijing Games with a broken leg, was always the player most impassioned about the mission to get the Americans back atop the podium. She spoke of "nightmares" from the Japan defeat, and now they've been replaced by tears of happiness.

The loudest of cheers erupted when she received her gold medal, and she was the only one to get a hug from American IOC member Angela Ruggiero, who draped the medal around Wambach's neck.

The U.S. team has won four of the five Olympic titles since women's soccer was introduced at the 1996 Atlanta Games, taking second place at the 2000 Games in Sydney.

Settling for silver, the Japanese players huddled together in defeat, with coach Norio Sasaki trying to encourage them. Karina Maruyama was inconsolable. Aya Miyama bowed her head and Asuna Tanaka wiped away tears.

But they were all smiles when they re-emerged for the medal ceremony, bouncing their way to the podium.

Lloyd's goals came in eighth and 54th minutes, making it four goals in the tournament for the midfielder who lost her long-held starting job weeks before the Olympics. She got back on the field when Shannon Boxx injured her hamstring in the opening game and started every game since.

Yuki Ogimi answered in the 63rd minute, and Mana Iwabuchi nearly had the equalizer in the 83rd — stripping the ball from captain Christie Rampone and swooping in on Solo — only to be thwarted when the goalie flung her entire body to the left to push the shot away.

Throughout the game, Japan perhaps played just as beautifully as the Americans, using speed and discipline to dominate possession and scoring chances for long stretches. The Japanese were unfortunate not to have a penalty kick awarded in the first half for a clear hand ball by U.S. midfielder Tobin Heath, who stuck out her left arm to stop a free kick inside the area.

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