LONDON, England (AP) — Japan had more than enough chances to beat the United States for the second straight time in a major women’s football final.
Yet the Japanese ended up on the losing side at the London Games yesterday, after taking the World Cup title just a year ago.
Japan played well and showed some of the same poise they had in the World Cup final against the Americans in 2011.
But they squandered too many scoring chances at Wembley in their 2-1 loss to the now three-time defending Olympic champions.
Japan twice hit the crossbar and missed on several opportunities from close range. And in one of their last chances of the match, US goalkeeper Hope Solo made a brilliant save off a shot by Mana Iwabuchi in the 83rd minute.
Some of the Japanese dropped to the ground after the final whistle, and many had tears streaking down their faces as they left the field. Coach Norio Sasaki huddled the players near midfield and they went around bowing to the large Japanese crowd at Wembley.
The team got a standing ovation for the 80,203 fans which set the record for the largest ever to watch a football game at the Olympics.
The Japanese could be the ones celebrating instead of lamenting if they had capitalised on at least some of the scoring chances they had throughout the match.
Substitute striker Iwabuchi failed on what was one of best opportunities of the entire match after she entered the area free from defenders after a mistake by an American player in the backfield. She had time and fireda firm right-footed shot toward the far corner, but Solo outstretched her arms to just barely push the ball away from the goal.
Striker Yuki Ogimi netted Japan’s only goal from close range in the 63rd minute after a shot by Homare Sawa was blocked by US captain Christie Rampone in front of the goal line. Sawa got the ball back and sent it to Ogimi, who tapped it in from close range.
The US had already opened a 2-0 lead with goals by playmaker Carli Lloyd in the eighth and 54th minutes.
It was the first time Japan entered a tournament as one of the main title favourites following their World Cup triumph over the US in Germany last year.
Japan were playing in their first Olympic final hoping to show their World Cup win a year ago was no fluke, and a victory would have made them the first team to win World Cup and Olympic titles in back-toback years.
Their best result so far had been a fourthplace finish in 2008 in Beijing, when they lost to the US in the semi-finals.
They reached the gold-medal match by eliminating France in the semi-finals, and a round earlier they got past Brazil, silvermedallist in the last two Olympics.
Japan’s attack wasn’t the most prolific entering the final. The team scored only two goals in the group stage, when they advanced second after a win and two goalless draws. They then got two goals in each match in the knockout round.
After the US scored the first goal, Japan pressed forward using long balls and taking advantage of the speed of their forwards.
They had three great chances to equalise in the first half alone.
Ogimi failed to find the net from close range after a scramble inside the area in the 17th, then a minute later her header was just barely tipped by Solo into the crossbar. The woodwork saved the Americans again in the 33rd on a shot by Japan captain Aya Miyama.
Striker Shinobu Ohno came close with her curling shot in the 37th, just missing wide of the right post.
The Japanese wanted a penalty call after an apparent hand ball by US forward Tobin Heath inside the area after a free kick in the 26th, but the referee let the play continue.
Japan came back attacking again in the second half but Lloyd got her second goal from outside the area to make things harder for the Japanese.
Ogimi finally found the net less than 10 minutes after the Lloyd’s goal, but Japan were not able to get the second despite more good chances until the end.
Miyama sent a powerful long-range shot over the crossbar in the 66th and Nahomi Kawasumi had her shot from inside the box cleared just in front of the goal by defender Kelley O’Hara in the 74th, with Solo beaten.
Iwabuchi’s miss in the 83rd was the last significant chance the Japanese team had.