Friday, August 22, 2008

USA is Gold, Gold, Gold!

The U.S. Women’s Olympic Soccer Team put together a near perfect defensive performance to hold powerful Brazil scoreless for 120 minutes while getting a goal from Carli Lloyd just six minutes into overtime to record a historic 1-0 victory and earn the gold medal.

This victory marked the third gold medal for the U.S. women in four Olympic Games. The USA also won gold in 1996 and 2004 while taking the silver in 2000.

The match was played in front of a raucous crowd of 51,612 on a field made slippery by rain that fell during the entire day and for the first part of the match.

The winning goal came on a shot from outside the box from Lloyd, who took advantage of a nice piece of possession in the U.S. attacking half that saw the ball go from substitute Lauren Cheney to Lloyd, who one-touched it to Amy Rodriguez. The speedy U.S. forward played a cheeky back heel to an overlapping Lloyd, and she took a touch forward before blasting a low left-footed shot into the lower left corner of the goal.

“What an amazing match,” said U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage. “I am so proud and I am enjoying the moment.”

The game was a rematch of the 2004 gold medal game that saw a similar result with the USA winning 2-1 in overtime off a game-winning goal from Abby Wambach.

Hope Solo played a super match in the U.S. nets, catching several dangerous crosses, stuffing Brazilian star Cristiane on a mini-breakaway, denying FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year Marta on an almost-point blank shot and parrying away a terrifyingly dangerous cross near the end.

The U.S. team played Brazil even during the first half, with both teams producing only a few scoring opportunities, but the Brazilians picked up the pace in the second half. That’s when the U.S. defense shined the most, riding a spectacular defensive performance from center backs Kate Markgaf and Christie Rampone and outside backs Heather Mitts and Lori Chalupny to keep the Brazilian strikers off the board despite several close chances.

After a scoreless 90 minutes, the teams entered the overtime period with Brazil getting the nod on scoring chances, but the U.S. defense and Solo would not break.

Solo’s best save of the night, and possibly the biggest of her career, came in the 72nd minute, after Marta got around two U.S. defenders and into the six-yard box. Marta had a clear shot from point-blank range, but Solo reacted with lightning-fast reflexes to block the well-struck shot with her right hand to keep game scoreless.

The Brazilian attack of Marta and Cristiane was dangerous throughout the night, using their dribbling runs at the U.S. defenders to create chances. In the 31st minute, Cristiane got in behind the American back line, but Solo came off her line to smother the ball, sending the Brazilian forward flying into the air. Three minutes later, it was Marta who danced around Markgraf and Rampone, but her low driven ball hit the side-netting at near post.

In the 41st minute, the U.S. turned a half-chance into a great opportunity. Heather O’Reilly made a quick turn near the right touchline and lifted the ball up in the air toward the penalty box. Hucles was there to run onto it and hit a half volley, but her shot went wide.

Solo was called upon to make another big save in the 54th minute, after Cristiane and Marta combined again to get Marta down the end line. She cut in toward the goal and hit a shot from a difficult angle that Solo snared and held onto as other Brazilian attackers crashed in for a potential rebound.

At the other end of the field, the Americans pressed forward late in the game as they looked to win the game in regulation. Brazilian goalkeeper Barbara was called upon to make her best save of the game in the 86th minute when Hucles ripped a one-timer that seemed destined for the side-netting, but Barbara dove to make the save and keep her team in the game.

Just before the end of regulation, Rodriguez found herself in alone on goal as a ball skipped past the Brazilian defense. The 21-year-old striker saw Barbara slip and tried to chip her, but the Brazilian ‘keeper was able to recover and knock the ball down.. With the final regulation chance, it was Rodriguez again who received the ball in the center of field, turned and ripped a low driven shot right to Barbara.

The American momentum carried into the first overtime period and the U.S. Women got the game winner just six minutes after the restart.

Both teams made substitutions after the goal as Sundhage brought on Natasha Kai for O’Reilly and Brazil countered by subbing in Rosana.

The South American side ratcheted up their attack looking for the equalizer and almost got it in the second overtime period. Following a quick restart, Marta got around two defenders on the dribble and hit a hard shot that went just high of Solo’s net.

Minutes later, she took a dangerous-looking free kick from outside the penalty area that took a bounce near the far post before skipping wide of the goal, just out of reach of a crashing Renata Costa.

With Brazil pressing forward, the U.S. took advantage of the counter attack, almost doubling their lead. Kai ran down a ball in the corner and played it across the top of the box, where Lloyd took it on the run and battled through a few defenders before hitting a shot that caromed off the right post and away.

With time running out, Brazil earned three straight corner kicks and the third almost leveled the score. Marta’s corner from the right side swung to the far post for Renata Costa, who got her head on it, but her shot hit the outside netting of the goal. The last chance of the game belonged to Brazil as Renata Costa lofted the ball into the box for Cristiane. She was able to get a head on it and drive the ball low, but Solo was there for the save.

Following the 2008 Olympic Games, the U.S. Women’s National Team will take on Ireland in a three-match tour, hitting stops on the East Coast and Midwest shortly after their return from China. The Fall Tour gets underway on Saturday, Sept. 13 in Philadelphia at 8 p.m. ET at Lincoln Financial Field, and continues on Wed., Sept. 17 at 7:30 p.m. ET at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. The last of these three games will be played on Saturday, Sept. 20 at 7 p.m. CT at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill.

Match-up: USA vs. Brazil
Competition: 2008 Beijing Olympics – Gold Medal Match
Venue: Worker’s Stadium; Beijing, China
Date: August 21, 2008; Kickoff – 9 p.m. local / 9 a.m. ET
Attendance: 51,612
Weather: Rain – 68 degrees

Scoring Summary:
1 2 E E F
USA 0 0 1 0 1
BRA 0 0 0 0 0

USA – Carli Lloyd (Amy Rodriguez) 96th minute.

USA: 18-Hope Solo; 2-Heather Mitts, 15-Kate Markgraf, 3-Christie Rampone – Capt., 17-Lori Chalupny; 9-Heather O’Reilly (6-Natasha Kai, 101), 7-Shannon Boxx, 11-Carli Lloyd, 5-Lindsay Tarpley (12-Lauren Cheney, 71); 8-Amy Rodriguez (14-Stephanie Cox, 120), 16-Angela Hucles
Subs not used: 4-Rachel Buehler, 10-Aly Wagner, 13-Tobin Heath, 18-Nicole Barnhart
Head Coach: Pia Sundhage

BRA: 12-Barbara; 2-Simone (18-Rosana, 104), 4-Tania, 5-Renata Costa, 16-Erika; 6-Maycon, 7-Daniela (15-Fabiana, 77), 8-Formiga (13-Francielle, 106+), 9-Ester; 10-Marta, 11-Cristiane
Subs: 1-Andeia, 3-Andreia Rosa, 17-Maurine, 14-Pretinha
Head Coach: Jorge Barcellos

Statistical Summary: USA / BRA
Shots: 10 / 15
Shots on Goal: 7 / 6
Saves: 6 / 6
Corner Kicks: 3 / 15
Fouls: 11 / 15
Offside: 0 / 6

Misconduct Summary:
USA – Heather Mitts (caution) 37th minute.
BRA – Rosana (caution) 106+.
BRA – Erika (caution) 108.
USA – Natasha Kai (caution) 114.

Referee: Dagmar Damkova (CZE)
Asst. Referee: Maria Luisa Villa Gutierrez (ESP)
Asst. Referee: Hege Steinlund (NOR)
4th Official: Christine Beck (GER)

Sierra Mist Woman of the Match: Hope Solo