USA midfielder Carli Lloyd (10) celebrates with teammates after a goal against Japan during the women's soccer gold medal match (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)
By Robert Klemko, USA TODAY
LONDON (USA TODAY) - Carli Lloyd, relegated to the bench before the Olympics and forced into action by injury, delivered two goals as the U.S. women's soccer team claimed Olympic gold for the fourth time in five opportunities.
The 30-year-old midfielder scored on a header in the eighth minute, and with a powerful right foot in the 53rd, leading the Americans to a 2-1 victory at Wembley Stadium.
The USA's victory wasn't without controversy. In a first-half sequence, the ball appeared to bounce off U.S. midfielder Tobin Heath's arm but there was no handball call. The Japanese earned a free kick instead of a penalty kick, which will likely be questioned in the aftermath.
Japan and the U.S. played before a crowd of 80,203, an Olympic record for a women's soccer game. A world record 90,185 spectators watched the U.S. women win the 1999 World Cup at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
Lloyd immediately showed the aggression U.S. coach Pia Sundhage has asked of her offensive center midfielders, streaking downfield to meet Alex Morgan's left-footed cross in the seventh, beating striker Abby Wambach to the punch and putting the U.S. ahead 1-0.
In the 53rd, she capitalized on a fast break, beating Miho Fukumoto with a strike from outside the box.
The Japanese answered Lloyd's second goal in the 62nd minute with a blast from Yuki Ogimi that came out of a scrum in front of U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo.
Solo made several highlight reel saves, including an 18th-minute denial of Ogimi from point blank range. In the 82nd, she stopped a 2-on-1 fast break with a diving two-handed stab.
Lloyd was benched in the lead-up to this tournament in favor of Lauren Cheney, who started the opener alongside center midfielder Shannon Boxx, a defensive anchor on Sundhage's team.
But Boxx injured her hamstring in a 4-2 victory against France, forcing Lloyd to assume a defensive role that wasn't her forte. Still, she scored from range against France, and again in group play against Colombia.
More than a week later, Cheney suffered an ankle injury in the semifinal. Sundhage turned to Boxx, and Lloyd returned to her natural position.
The U.S. women won all six games in this tournament, coming from behind in two.
The Americans posted three consecutive shutouts before facing Canada, which threatened to snap the USA's 26-game unbeaten streak in the series. In the semifinal, Canadian striker Christine Sinclair broke the tie three times with a hat trick in regulation. But the U.S. forced extra time after two Megan Rapinoe goals and a controversial call against Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod, which led to an indirect free kick, a handball, and an eventual Wambach penalty kick.