LONDON, ENGLAND - North Carolina alumnae Heather O'Reilly and Tobin Heath are officially Olympic gold medalists again as the U.S. defeated Japan 2-1 Thursday afternoon before Olympic record crowd of 80,203 fans at the Hallowed Grounds of Wembley Stadium.
The U.S. has now won three gold medals in a row and four of the five tournaments since the sport was added to the Olympic docket in 1996 in Atlanta. It is the third Olympic gold medal for O'Reilly who also was on winning teams in 2004 and 2008. Heath won her second gold medal. She was also on the winning side in Beijing.
"We were so proud to represent UNC at the Olympics," said Heather O'Reilly. "UNC is a special place, and it was there that our passion, skills, and competitive fire grew. UNC and North Carolina as a whole has always been so supportive of women's soccer and we are happy we could bring home another gold to an already title rich community."
The American side won on the strength of two goals by attacking center midfielder Carli Lloyd.
The Americans took the lead in the game in the eighth minute on a goal set up by 2010 UNC alumna Tobin Heath. The crafty midfielder carried the ball down the left side, making a deep run to the corner. With her head up, Heath sent a ball on the ground to Alex Morgan who pivoted to her left and delivered a ball to the center of the box that was headed home by Carli Lloyd, her third score of the tournament.
Japan nearly claimed the equalizer in the 17th and 18th minutes of action when it had back to back incredible scoring chances. First Nahomi Kawasumi got behind the American defensive line on the left side but her shot from 12 yards was cleared away from Christie Rampone. A minute later, Yuki Ogimi got free in the penalty area and launched a header that was tipped away at the last second by Hope Solo off the crossbar.
The U.S. dodged a bullet in the 27th minute when on a Japanese free kick from a dangerous spot, the Americans avoided a handball call in the box that would have given Japan a penalty kick. The television replay showed that the U.S.'s Tobin Heath got away with a handball on the play. Just two minutes later Japan caught a break itself when Amy LePeiblet's cross was almost headed in by Japanese defender Azusa Iwashizumu for an own goal. The ball clanged off the left post with pace and awkwardly caromed out of danger.
Again, Japan almost equalized in the 33rd minute when Aya Miyama had a great chance in the box from 10 yards away but her shot his the crossbar and went over for a U.S. goal kick. Japan continued to pour the pressure on and in the 37th minute a shot from 20 yards out by Shinobu Ohno just skimmed by the right post by inches.
In the 42nd minute, Carli Lloyd made a strong run through the middle of the pitch and she sent a swerving shot from distance that Japanese goalkeeper Miho Fukumoto smothered. In the 45th minute, Fukumoto was forced into another save on a 30-yard shot by Tobin Heath.
In the second half, the U.S. seemed to regain momentum, making several dangerous runs into the penalty area in the opening six minutes of play. The pressure led to Lloyd's second goal of the game in the 54th minute as she made a run through the midfield and then finished from 20 yards out into the left side netting for a 2-0 U.S. lead.
The two-goal lead would be short-lived, however, as Japan countered in the 63rd minute on a goal by Yuki Ogimi. 2011 FIFA Player of the Year Homare Sawa got free in the box and sent a shot that eluded Solo but Rampone was there to clear the ball off the line. Rampone's clearance pined off both Kelly O'Hara and Sawa and Ogimi opportunistically finished into the left side from four yards out. In the 68th minute the Americans had another excellent chance after Rachel Buhler ran on to a ball that had been served into the box off a free kick. But Fukumoto was there to keep it out of the net and the U.S. advantage stayed at a single goal.
In the 74th minute, Lloyd was called for handball on the right side from 28 yards away and the ensuing free kick proved to be a dangerous one as the ball was pinged around the penalty area before Amy LePeilbet went to her knees to chest the ball away from the goal line. In the 82nd minute, Lloyd came close to completing a hat trick but her shot from outside of the box sailed just high.
Hope Solo then on her own saved the U.S. after Rampone turned the ball over in a dangerous area and Mana Iwabuchi dribbled in against Solo one-on-one. She tried to slip the ball inside the far post but Solo dove to her left and made an amazing save.
Robyn Gayle, a 2008 UNC alumna, won a bronze medal in the competition on Thursday as Canada defeated France 1-0 in the third-place match on a goal in the final minute of play.
SHOTS: USA 14, Japan 8
SHOTS ON GOAL: USA 7, Japan 4
CORNER KICKS: USA 4, Japan 3
OFFSIDES: USA 1, Japan 2
SUBSTITUTIONS: USA 2, Japan 3
YELLOW CARDS: USA 1, Japan 0