Friday, 10 August 2012

USA Ladies 2 v 1 Japan Ladies

Thursday 9th August 2012
London 2012 Olympics Women’s Football Final
Wembley Stadium, London
Admission: £30.00
Tournament Programme : £5.00
Attendance: 80,203
Match Rating: 4

My final taste of the London 2012 Olympics (having already taken in Beach Volleyball, Hockey and Indoor Volleyball) was something closer to what I’m used to, with a ticket for arguably the most prestigious match in the Women’s football game, the Olympic Final. The women’s tournament in the Olympic Games has been of much more interest to me than the men’s game, as the very best players take part in this tournament without any restrictions, unlike the men’s tournament, which feels somewhat contrived with its under 23 rule except for three overage players.

Heading up to Wembley Stadium via the Metropolitan tube line, the walk from Wembley Park station to the stadium is perhaps one of my favourite walks to a football ground, with the stadium and arch closely visible at the end of the short straight pedestrian only road filled with people making their way to the stadium. Programmes were available outside the stadium, although neither on offer were specific for this evening’s game, which was slightly disappointing given the prestigious nature of the match. What was on offer were impressive enough in themselves considering they were generic programmes produced before the Olympic Games – a programme for the whole of the Olympic Games, and a separate programme for both the men’s and women’s football tournament.

This evening match would be between the two highest ranked teams in the tournament, with top ranked USA against third ranked Japan (second ranked Germany almost unbelievably failed to qualify for this tournament). The United States have an almost perfect record in the Olympics since a women’s tournament was introduced in 1996, winning three of the four tournaments to date, and claiming the silver medal on the other occasion. Japan’s record in the Olympic Games has been rather underwhelming, with a best quarter-final finish in the three tournaments they have qualified for. However, they have had a dramatic upturn in fortunes in the last couple of years, lifting the World Cup, beating the United States in the final on penalties. To reach this stage, the United States beat France, North Korea and Colombia in the group stage, New Zealand in the Quarter-Finals, before almost being on the wrong end of a major shock in the semi-final, falling behind three times to neighbours Canada, before winning the match 4-3 in added on time at the end of extra time. Japan were slightly less convincing in reaching the final, beating Canada before being held to goalless draws against Sweden and South Africa in the group stage, before beating Brazil and France in the Quarter and Semi Finals.

On a very warm and humid evening, the match would prove to be a wonderful advertisement for the women’s game, full of attacking endeavour and no little skill. It was the USA who dominated the early exchanges and on seven minutes they took the lead when the ball was crossed high from the byline by Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd headed home. As might be expected, Japan did not let their heads drop and proceeded to play some excellent football in seeking a way back into the match. They had two glorious chances to equalise when Hope Solo tipped a powerful header from Yuki Ogimi onto the crossbar before Aya Miyama saw her shot come off the post before bouncing clear. Shinobu Ohno then curled a glorious shot just past the post, before being denied what looked like a clear penalty for handball. The United States were almost gifted a more comfortable lead though when defender Azusa Iwashimizu awkwardly headed the ball onto her own post.

So Japan were unfortunate to be trailing at the break, and they were to rue missing all of their earlier chances in the 53rd minute when Carli Lloyd hit a powerful low shot from 20 yards beyond the keeper’s dive and just inside the post. On 63 minutes, Japan did finally get on the scoreboard when, following couple of blocked shots and a goalmouth scramble, Ogimi tapped the ball home. Japan continued to dominate proceedings and yet more glorious chances to snatch an equaliser, when a shot was cleared off the line and Solo made a fantatic save with eight minutes remaining. But the United States held on to claim the gold medal, with the Japanese players left in tears to rue their inability to convert their performance and chances into a victory. After the match, eventually the medal ceremony saw Canada, who had earlier dramatically beaten France with an injury time goal in Coventry, awarded their bronze medals followed by Japan receiving their silver medals and the USA their gold medals.

Video highlights of this game can be found here

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