Many of their critics said it could not be done this time, but the US women’s national team managed to mine Olympic gold once again.
For the second consecutive Olympics, the USA were outplayed by Brazil but managed to secure the gold medal with a late goal. Midfielder Carli Lloyd scored the dramatic goal six minutes into extra time en route to a 1-0 triumph at the Workers’ Stadium in Beijing on 21 August. The Americans have defined the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament, winning three of the four gold medals (they also won in 1996 and 2004) and taking home the silver in 2000. Four years ago in Greece, the USA managed to win 2-1 against a talented Brazilian side thanks to an extra-time goal by Abby Wambach. The team’s leading scorer (99 international goals) could not play this time after breaking her left leg in a 1-0 win over Brazil in July.
The victory also heralded a resurrection for the Americans, who were embarrassed 4-0 by the Brazilians in the FIFA Women’s World Cup semi-finals in China last year – the worst defeat in their history — amid a major goalkeeping controversy. That loss and the controversy surrounding it cost coach Greg Ryan his job. Former Swedish international Pia Sundhage was brought in to hea! the team and bring home the gold.
“When I was six years old, I thought 1 was the only girl in the whole world who played football. I wasn’t allowed to play because I was a girl,” said Sundhage, who became the first foreigner to guide a women’s team to a major FIFA title in eirher the Olympics or Women’s World Cup. “Back then, I could never imagine that I’d be a professional player or a professional coach. Now I’m sitting with a great player, the USA’s captain Christie Rampone, and looking at her gold medal. 1 am so proud.”
“I FEEL GREAT”
So was goalkeeper Hope Solo, who completed a remarkable personal comeback. Almost 11 months before, Solo had left China in disgrace, having been ostracised by her team-mates for controversial remarks she made after being relegated to the bench for the semi-final of the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Last 27 September, an angry Solo vented her frustration about being benched. Ryan had surprisingly replaced her with veteran Briana Scurry. “There is no doubt in my mind I would have made those saves,” Solo said at the time.
She made them this time, but was quick to play down any talk of vindication. “I don’t even think about that, whatever I said last year,” she said. “I am just enjoying this moment right now. 1 feel great. 1 just won a damn gold medal.”
Solo made seven saves, but none was more important than the one she made from two-time FIFA World Player Marta in the 72nd minute, blocking her six-yard attempt with her right forearm. “1 was ready to get up and celebtate,” said Brazil coach Jorge Barcellos, remembering the save by Solo, who said: “I can’t even recall the saves or how they happened, but all 1 know is that I was playing with a different energy tonight and it just felt so good.”
That set up Lloyd’s late heroics. Amy Rodriguez, who will begin her senior year at the University of Southern California this autumn, set up the goal. Breaking free of the two Brazilians on her back, she waited for Lloyd to make a run before sending her the ball. Lloyd broke in and sent a 19-yard bullet to the right of goalkeeper Barbara, in front of a crowd of 51,612. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would score the goal that would give us the Olympic gold,” said Lloyd.
The win brought a climax to a tournament that the USA were not given much chance of winning. They lost their opening match 2-0 to Norway, surrendering two goals in the opening four minutes, before slowly picking up steam by winning five consecutive matches. They recovered to defeat Japan 1-0 and New Zealand 4-0, thus winning their first-round group and avoiding world champions Germany or Brazil until the final. They outlasted arch-rivals Canada in the quarter-finals, winning 2-1 after extra time, and downed Japan 4-2 in the semi-finals.
This was the third consecutive major FIFA tournament in which the Brazilians have finished runners-up and they have scored only once in the three finals. They lost the 2004 Olympic gold-medal match 2-1 to the USA, the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2007 final 2-0 to Germany, and the 2008 Olympic final 1-0 to the USA. “We always play well during the tournament, but in the finals we can’t score,” said Marta. “I also ask myself what happens to us in the finals.”
Brazil went undefeated up to the final and stunned defending world champions Germany 4-1 in the semi-finals, scoring twice from counter-attacks following German corner kicks. Cristiane, top scorer in the tournament with five goals, scored once in each half. Until that loss, the Germans had not conceded a single goal in China, spanning 10 matches in the FIFA Women’s World Cap and the Olympics. Their star striker Birgk Prinz failed to score in the first four matches before breaking her duck against Brazil. Germany salvaged some pride by recording a 2-0 extra-time win over surprise package Japan in the bronze-medal match, with goals by substitute Fatmire Bajramaj.
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