|Hope Solo made a late pivotal stop to help the U.S. women's national team win gold. (Getty Images)|
Welcome to the CBSSports.com live tracking post for the Olympic women's soccer gold medal match between two-time defending Olympic champions Team USA and reigning World Cup champions Japan (NBC Sports Network). This post will be continuously updated as the U.S. women aim for the top of the podium.
4:33 p.m. ET: It's over! USA wins the gold medal 2-1 over Japan! They win their third consecutive Olympic gold medal.
The surprising hero is Carli Lloyd, who repeated her game-winning heroics from the 2008 gold medal final by scoring both U.S. goals, the second a rocket that ranks among the best goals of the tournament--and now, one of the greatest American soccer goals of all time.
The U.S. can also thank Hope Solo, who pulled off several world-class saves to help salvage another wobbly showing from the U.S. back line. For Japan, they'll rue their multiple missed chances, in both halves--as well as the obvious Tobin Heath first-half handball in the penalty box that officials let go unpunished.
But none of that will change the result: U.S. 2, Japan 1, and redemption for the U.S. Women's National team after the heartbreak of 2011.
4:30 p.m. ET: 89th minute, Wambach misses a golden opportunity to finish it when a corner skims off her head at close range. Only seconds remaining, though.
4:25 p.m. ET: Into the final 7 minutes, with the U.S. continuing to cling to the lead thanks to another outrageous save from Solo on a shot from 6 yards out by Asuna Tanaka. Christie Rampone -- the captain! -- with a truly horrific giveaway outside the box. Heart attacks, anyone?
4:17 p.m. ET: The Japanese have gotten a couple of free kicks near the U.S. box and have used them to cause maximum havoc, with Abby Wambach heading one clear to prevent what seemed a certain goal and another leading to a medium-pace shot from 10 yards that was blocked on the line. Morgan has looked dangerous on the counter, but has missed a pair of low-percentage shots now when teammates were better positioned.
13 minutes left. Still 2-1.
4:10 p.m. ET: Into the 70th minute, still at 2-1 after defender Rachel Buehler latched onto a long U.S. free kick and tapped towards goal from close range, only for Fukumoto to block. Nearly 3-1, but Japan still seeing too much of the ball in the U.S. half. White-knuckle time ... again.
4:03 p.m. ET: GOAL, JAPAN. The U.S.'s old defensive-lapse bugaboo reared its ugly head as Japan's well-worked shot was blocked on the line by Christie Rampone ... who cleared into the center of the box, where the ball was stolen, passed forward and punched in from point-blank range by Yuki Ogimi. A virtual replay of the goal that equalized the World Cup final. 2-1 U.S., 67th minute.
3:57 p.m. ET: GOAl, UNITED STATES! Carli Lloyd scores her third goal in two Olympic finals, and this was the best yet: a screamer from just outside the box into the far corner, after taking the ball near the center circle and dribbling past two defenders. 2-0 USA, 56th minute.
3:50 p.m. ET: The U.S. does not start the second half well, giving away a free kick just outside the box and then risking another penalty when Rachel Buehler bear hugs a Japanese forward bearing down on the delivery. Solo cleared, but it's more shaky moments at the back for the U.S.
3:45 p.m. ET: Via Soccer by Ives, a shot of Tobin Heath's first-half handball in the box:
That's a penalty kick, plain and simple. Another huge bit of fortune for the U.S.
3:33 p.m. ET: A trademark Aya Miyama long free kick causes some minor trouble in the U.S. box, but the Americans get it away and that's the half. The U.S. rode their luck defensively at times -- many times -- through the first 45 minutes, but looked consistently bright on offense and converted their best chance. In some ways, the match is a mirror image of the World Cup final's first half, where the U.S. dominated play but failed to take their multiple chances. This time it''s Japan left to rue their finishing.
The bottom line: U.S. 1, Japan 0 at halftime.
3:30 p.m. ET: Just as Japan began to tighten their grip on the match, repeatedly passing their way through a step-slow U.S. midfield, the U.S. answers with some tantalizing counter-attacks, the best resulting in a Carli Lloyd 20-yard shot that Japanese keeper Fukumoto smothered. Still, as the half draws to a close, the U.S. can't assume they'll pitch a shutout the way the Japanese are attacking.
3:20 p.m. ET: The final has become another wild, riveting back-and-forth American soccer match as both teams attack with abandon. The U.S. nearly took a 2-0 lead when a Rapinoe cross was headed against the Japanese post by one of their own defenders, but then were nearly equalized when Aya Miyama rattled the bar from 10 yards with Solo beaten. Thrillingly entertaining stuff, but still 1-0 in the 35th minute.
3:10 p.m. ET: Nevermind that last update: Japan striker Yuki Ogimi forced the U.S. into two desperate saves in the space of two minutes, the first on an 8-yard shot to the far post that Christie Rampone cleared and the second on a close-range header that Hope Solo miraculously palmed away. In another bit of positive American luck in the officiating department, a Japanese free kick struck Tobin Heath's hand -- in a play remarkably similar to the one that gave the U.S. a penalty kick vs. Canada -- only for play to be waved on.
But it's still U.S. 1, Japan 0, 25th minute.
3 p.m. ET: 15 minutes in, and Japan has shown off some of the midfield skill that's their forte, but their final passes into the box have left the U.S. the far more threatening team even after the goal. Abby Wambach nearly reached a Megan Rapinoe cross, and the U.S. earned the game's first corner -- a fruitless one -- moments later.
2:55 p.m. ET: GOAL UNITED STATES! Tobin Heath crossed low to Alex Morgan, who controlled it deftly and lifted a back post cross to Carli Lloyd, who came out of nowhere to head home from six yards. The best possible start for the U.S. 1-0, 9th minute
2:50 p.m. ET: And we're off! Both teams trying to bypass midfield with long passes to start, U.S. with a little more success.
2:40 p.m. ET: Teams have taken the field for the national anthem. U.S. will be wearing their blue kit with Japan in red--an unusual look for the Japanese, for whatever it's worth.
The referee will be Germany's Bibiana Steinhaus, one of the world's best, most experienced referees. There probably won't be the officiating controversy of the Canada game ... but of course, it's soccer, so you can't rule it out.
2:15 p.m. ET: The Japanese lineup, via Grant Wahl:
Japan lineup: Fukumoto; Kinga, Kumagai, Iwashimizu, Sameshima; Miyama, Sakaguchi, Sawa, Kawasumi; Ohno, Ogimi— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) August 9, 2012
No surprises there. The strong point is the midfield, with World Player of the Year Homare Sawa and dead-ball specialist Aya Miyama. Goalkeeper Miho Fukumoto could be a weak point.
1:45 p.m. ET: The U.S. has released their starting lineup, and there's a surprise in the midfield. But first, a look at it:
GK: Hope Solo
D (left to right): Kelley O'Hara, Rachel Buehler, Christie Rampone (captain), Amy LePeilbet
MF: Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd, Shannon Boxx, Tobin Heath
F: Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan.
The headline here is U.S. coach Pia Sundhage opting for Shannon Boxx over Lauren Cheney in the midfield. Boxx injured her hamstring in the Olympic opener against France and hasn't seen a minute of playing time since, with Lloyd coming off the bench to fill in capably. But fellow central midfielder Cheney was invisible against Canada, and Sundhage no doubt has always preferred to get the physical Boxx into the starting lineup if healthy.
It appears she is, but she could have to knock off some early rust after not seeing game action for two full weeks. It's a gamble, but given Cheney's anonymous play of late, it could prove to be a smart one by Sundhage.