USA opens with win over France
Twice, Hope Solo stretched to her left to stop the ball. Twice, she couldn’t quite reach it.
Bang! Boom! Two quick shots, and the US women’s soccer team had an early hole at the start of the quest for a third consecutive Olympic gold medal.
Fortunately for the Americans, they have firepower like no other squad in the world, enough to overcome such a deficit and take control, beating France 4-2 Wednesday as they opened their London Games far from London.
Weren’t aware that the Olympics were already under way? There’s nothing like a come-from-behind win to make people notice.
"There’s a lot of other sports going on," deadpanned midfielder Megan Rapinoe. "So we have to catch the attention early."
They did so not only by falling behind, but by finding four dynamic ways to score goals. Abby Wambach used her size and strength to head in a corner kick, speedy Alex Morgan raced ahead to chip one over the goalkeeper, Carli Lloyd nailed a 25-yard rocket, and Morgan cashed in with a simple tap-in after a nice run from Tobin Heath.
"I think there was a lot of nerves and stuff going on in those first minutes," defender Rachel Buehler said. "And we got ’em out. It probably went as bad as it could — and then we were able to turn it around."
Soccer always starts early at the Olympics in order to have time to play a full tournament of games. In this case, the Americans were on the field two days before the opening ceremony and 400-plus miles from the British capital.
And they knew that an early stumble wouldn’t be the end of the world. The US gave up two goals in the first four minutes to open the last Olympics in China, losing to 2-0 to Norway. The Americans rebounded to win their final five matches and take the gold.
"After 2-0, I thought about China," coach Pia Sundhage said. "We’ve been there before and we came back. If you look at the whole tournament in China, we won the gold medal. Now this team is better than 2008. We came back in the game."
While the Americans are favored to take the title again — and even though the US is now 13-0-1 all-time against France — it was hardly a surprise to see the French make it a game. The teams were tied late in the second half in last year’s World Cup semifinals before the Americans finished off a 3-1 win, and France entered these Olympics on a 17-game winning streak.
Still, the Americans allowed more goals in the first handful of minutes Wednesday than they had allowed in any game since the World Cup final loss to Japan. Gaetane Thiney (12th minute) and Marie-Laure Delie (14th) found holes in a supposedly impenetrable defense — a potential cause for US concern as the grueling tournament progresses.
"It’s not the game we wanted to play," defender and captain Christie Rampone said. "But we’ve got a lot of games ahead of us to try and get our rhythm back."
Another concern for the Americans: Midfielder Shannon Boxx left in the first half with a hamstring injury and is day-to-day.
"Magic things could happen after a good sleep," Sundhage said. "So we’ll just wait and see."
Regardless, other teams in the tournament will surely take notice at how the Americans roared back against the French. Wambach in the 19th. Morgan in the 32nd. Lloyd in the 56th. Morgan again in the 66th. Wambach now has 139 international goals in her pursuit of Mia Hamm’s record of 158, and 23-year-old "Baby Horse" Morgan — the second-youngest player on the team — has a remarkable 19 this year alone.
"We didn’t stress out," Wambach said. "We just needed that one goal to give us that momentum, and that’s what happened. . . . I think they might be kicking themselves because they had a really good opportunity to keep the United States at bay. Going up two goals against us is quite a feat, in my opinion, and I think the fact we kind of grinded it out, came back and had four unanswered goals, I think that’s demoralizing for any opponent, truthfully."
The United States plays Colombia in its second group game on Saturday. France will face North Korea.
The French took the lead on a deflected long ball that ended up at the foot of Thiney, who had plenty of space to unleash a 22-yard shot that grazed the fingertips of Solo.
Two minutes later, the Americans played a dangerous game of pinball deep in their own end, failing in five separate chances to clear a corner kick. Inevitably, the ball bounced to Delie, who put the easy shot past Solo to make it 2-0.
It wasn’t long, however, before Wambach started the comeback by heading in Rapinoe’s corner kick. The goal awakened a crowd that so far had behaved as if watching a BBC documentary. Chants of "U-S-A!" began to echo in sections of Hampden Park, the 109-year-old landmark that serves as Scotland’s national stadium.
The 52,000-seat stadium was perhaps one-third full at kickoff — attendance was announced at 18,090 — but the game needed to draw only a couple of thousand to surpass the all-time Scottish record for attendance at a women’s game. Organizers gave away some 30,000 tickets to schools and local clubs to keep the stands from being embarrassingly empty in a region where soccer is overwhelmingly a man’s game.
The American fans who made the trip had their enthusiasm rewarded again when Solo got an assist when her long ball was chased down on the first bounce by Morgan, who nudged it over goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi to tie the score.
Sundhage said her team is so deep that games will be won by her subs, and it was Lloyd — previously a starter for much of her career — who came on for Boxx and hit a tiebreaker that was never in doubt, a blast that left Bouhaddi helpless as it found the left side of the net.
Heath helped make the margin a comfortable one with a long run down the left side deep into the penalty area before running into interference. The ball slid over to Morgan, who merely had to tap it in for the game’s final goal.
"Sure, we want to keep a clean sheet as much as possible," Rampone said. "But right now the most important thing is winning games. We took three points away from being down 2-nil in the first 15 minutes, so I think that’s a reason to hold our heads up."