(LONDON) — In front of a crowd of nearly 85,000 at London’s Wembley Stadium, midfielder Carli Lloyd led the U.S. women’s soccer team to a gold medal in Thursday’s final against Japan.
The 2-1 victory was sweet revenge for the Americans, who lost to the Japanese in a 2011 World Cup final upset, the first time they had beaten the United States in 26 games.
The United States drew blood early, with a goal by Lloyd in the eighth minute. As they celebrated the goal, some players thought it was scored by Abby Wambach, who swung her foot at the ball at a cross by Alex Morgan as Lloyd knocked it in. Wambach cleared up the confusion with an emphatic point of the finger toward her teammate.
Lloyd struck goal again in the 54th minute, her fourth of the Olympics and the team’s 16th. She dribbled a ball from Megan Rapinoe near the halfline toward the goal as Morgan and Wambach raced ahead of her. Neither were open, so rather than pass, Lloyd blasted a shot past Japanese goalkeeper Miho Fukimoto’s outstretched arms and into the net’s left side.
It took Japan until the 64th minute to score. Japan’s Yuki Ogimi tapped a ball in that the United States defense failed to clear. Defender Christie Rampone blocked a Japanese shot, but she could not keep Ogimi’s rebound out of the net.
Japan gained momentum in the second half as a previously somnolent Japanese crowd at Wembley thunderously awoke.
Confusion near the American net in the 74th minute almost gave the Japanese an equalizing second goal, but a foul called in the penalty box against Japan gave the United States relief from the threat.
The closing 15 minutes of the match were full of intense moments — physical play that earned Wambach a yellow card and breakaways from both teams — but the score stayed at 2-1 until the referee blew the final whistle, giving the United States the gold medal.
Despite their World Cup win, Japan came into Thursday’s final at a significant disadvantage both in size and experience. History was also against them — with the exception of the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the United States has won the gold medal in women’s soccer in every Games since it became an Olympic sport in 1996.
The American reign in the sport was in doubt just three days ago, when the Canadian team nearly advanced to the final in a nail-biting semifinal. Morgan headed a cross into the net in the last minute of extra time, ending a match that some Canadian players later said was unfairly refereed.
While the women’s soccer final was the marquee event Thursday, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt cemented his status as the world’s fastest man with gold medal-winning 19:32 time in the 200 meters. Fresh off a Sunday gold in the 100 meters, Bolt became the first back-to-back gold medal-winning sprinter ever.
It was a one-two-three finish for Jamaica, as Bolt’s countrymen Johan Blake and Warren Weir rounded out the silver and bronze with 19:44 and 19:84 times.
Earlier in the day, U.S. middleweight boxer Claressa Shields earned the first American gold medal in women’s boxing.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Patrick Ary, WAAY
Tal Kopan, CNN
Sara Ganim and Eric Levenson, CNN
Michael Nedelman, CNN