The American women took their third straight Olympic gold medal by downing Japan, 2-1, with a pair of goals by Carli Lloyd, a few clutch saves by Hope Solo -- and a fair bit of good fortune. Here are a few observations from a memorable end to a remarkable run:
CLUTCH CARLI. Four years ago in Beijing, Lloyd struck the overtime winner that earned the USA women their second consecutive gold medal. At Wembley Stadium in London on Thursday, she scored with two classic finishes to enable a repeat.
She'd already scored two goals in the tournament, including a belter from distance in the 4-2 dispatch of France to open the U.S. schedule. In the seventh minute of the final, she got on to the end of a feed from Alex Morgan, who twisted clear of her marker to cut a floater back from byline that a sprinting Lloyd stooped to head powerfully into the net. She set off on another relentless run early in the second half, this time with the ball at her feet, and veered to her right outside the penalty area to smash home yet another goal from long range.
Lloyd has labored for a year with the stigma of failing with the USA's first penalty-kick attempt in the tiebreaker that decided the 2011 Women's World Cup final and then found herself on the bench for the start of the Olympics.
But her ability to play the holding role behind a line of three midfielders and provide outlet passes to teammates, yet still get forward to score goals emphasized her impressive and underrated array of abilities.
SUPER SOLO, AND FRIENDS. Since the USA often controls play for long periods, Solospent a lot of her time as a spectator in goal. She got her game on against Japan, palming Yuki Ogimi's header onto the crossbar to rob her of a goal, and fending off a powerful shot from substitute Asuna Tanaka in the final minutes.
On both plays, as well as several other goalmouth incidents, Solo sprang back to her feet after making an initial save or going down to block.
Solo finished with six saves, her highest total in the tournament, and also seeded some crucial interventions from her defenders as well as a bit of luck to deny Japan.
Captain Christie Rampone cleared away two shots from the goalmouth that had eluded Solo, and Amy LePeilbet thwarted Japan with a chest block as she fell to her knees during a goalmouth scramble. A thunderous blast by Aya Miyama blazed over Solo's desperate dive but came back off the crossbar.
CLOSE CALLS. As they had in the semifinal victory against Canada, the Americans were helped by favorable refereeing decisions.
German referee Bibiana Steinhaus either didn't see or ignored Tobin Heath's handling of the ball from a Miyama free kick and a goalmouth rugby tackle by defender Rachel Buehler also went unpunished.
Buehler's wrapup of Saki Kumagai is the type of set-play scrum that often goes unpunished, but Heath's outstreched left arm clearly handled a free kick with her stationed several yards from teammates lined up in a defensive wall.