LONDON – Carli Lloyd broke Japan’s hearts with a double strike as the United States beat the world champions 2-1 on Thursday to win the Olympic gold medal in the women’s soccer competition for the third time in a row at the London Games.
Lloyd took her tally for the tournament to four with a pair of clinical finishes in front of an Olympic record crowd of 80,203 at Wembley, helping the Americans exact revenge for their defeat to the Japanese in last year’s World Cup final in Germany.
Despite the loss, Japan, who pulled one back through Yuki Ogimi, can return home with their heads held high having won their first ever women’s soccer medal with the silver.
The Japan men’s team could medal for the first time since the 1968 Mexico Games when they take on fierce rivals South Korea in the bronze medal match in Cardiff on Friday.
Alex Morgan caused a fair few headaches for Japan’s defense and scored twice in a 4-1 friendly win in Sweden in June, and she nearly punished sloppy defending from the normally reliable Saki Kumagai on four minutes before setting up the opener for Lloyd.
Morgan, matchwinner in the 4-3 extra-time semifinal win over Canada, picked up a pass from Tobin Heath and cut back from the byline for Lloyd to power her header past Miho Fukumoto.
Japan had two great chances of their own, though, both of them created by Homare Sawa, but Nahomi Kawasumi had a shot cleared off the line by Christie Rampone and Ogimi saw her header tipped onto the crossbar by Hope Solo.
The Americans were the benefactors of some very dubious officiating in the semifinal against Canada and they got away scott-free in the 26th minute, German referee Bibiana Steinhaus waving away claims for a penalty even though television replays had shown Heath blatantly handball Aya Miyama’s free kick.
Japan dominated the rest of the first half but were left with nothing to show for their efforts, hitting the crossbar again after Shinobu Ono found space to tee up Miyama.
Norio Sasaki’s team fell further behind on 54 minutes when Lloyd surged through the Japanese defense and beat Fukumoto with an unstoppable strike, but it was game on again as Ogimi grabbed her third goal of the tournament.
Women’s World Player of the Year Sawa had a shot scrambled away by Rampone but put the ball back into the danger zone for Ogimi to bundle in from close range.
Sasaki brought off defender Aya Sameshima and threw on striker Mana Iwabuchi in an attempt to find an equalizer and the move nearly paid off when Iwabuchi dispossessed an American defender and forced a smart save from Solo with seven minutes left.