Overpowered by Carli Lloyd’s incredible 16-minute hat trick, defending champion Japan battled back with a pair of goals and launched several other dangerous attacks but never caught up. Tobin Heath’s first goal of the tournament restored a three-goal advantage first provided by Lauren Holiday’s thumping volley.
1. Lloyd scores one more than in gold-medal game.
Japan didn’t learn its lesson from the 2012 Olympic final in which Lloyd scored both goals in a 2-1 victory.
She ran unmarked from a deep position to score the first goal when Megan Rapinoe’s diagonal corner kick on the ground fooled the Japanese defense, and got a second goal two minutes later when a Lauren Holiday free kick that Julie Johnston flicked on wasn’t cleared and Lloyd tapped in the loose ball.
Of course, Lloyd’s audacious chip from the halfway line stunned everyone, especially Japanese keeper Ayumi Kaihori, who slipped as she started to backpedal and though she got her right glove in the right spot the ball glanced inside the post. But before Lloyd launched that incredible shot, she slipped a tackle in the center circle that could have stopped the play in the U.S. half of the field.
After scoring three goals in its opening game, a 3-1 defeat of Australia, the Americans labored through a goalless game with Sweden and beat Nigeria, 1-0, on a Wambach goal. In the round-of-16 game against Colombia, Wambach drilled a penalty kick wide of the post. The Americans went to score 10 goals in less than three and a half games the rest of the way; Lloyd scored six of them, starting with a second penalty kick awarded later in the Colombia game. She scored with both feet and nailed a header for the only goal against China.
In the final, Lloyd drilled a header wide that could have been a fourth goal, which would rank second on the all-time Women’s World Cup achievements. The WWC record is five goals scored by former USA international Michelle Akers in a 1991 quarterfinal against Chinese Taipei. The only other WWC hat trick by an American was scored by Carin Jennings, who bagged three in that same competition.
The taller Americans figured to have a height advantage on set plays yet they changed up personnel as well as strategy to score twice within the first five minutes and struck again on a set piece for the fifth goal.
Rapinoe’s ball along the ground went straight to Lloyd after space in front of Kaihori was cleared out by Alex Morgan and Heath. Japan tracked those players and the obvious aerial target, Julie Johnston, and didn’t react in time to Lloyd’s run.
On the second goal, though it was taken near the right-wing corner flag, instead Holiday delivered it to the near post and after Johnston flicked it on, it bounced off the arm of Rumi Utsugi. As Morgan raised her arm in an offside appeal, Lloyd flashed quickest to the ball and knocked it in.
The USA also conceded a goal on a set play when Johnston’s jump to deal with one of several dangerous deliveries by Aya Miyama deflected the ball into her own net. Its 4-0 lead trimmed to 4-2, the U.S. responded in two minutes; another Holiday corner wasn’t punched solidly enough by Kaihori, and the very under-praised Morgan Brian relayed the loose ball to Heath to bang home the fifth.
The Japanese kept battling and pressing despite the shock of conceding four goals in 18 minutes but losing out on second balls cost them those two goals, plus a disastrous clearance by defender Azusa Iwashimizu that went straight up in the air dropped invitingly for Holiday to volley spectacularly.
Criticism of head coach Jill Ellis mounted as the Americans ground out efficient but not effervescent results, but her confidence in Brian, among others, paid off as they outclassed No. 1 seed Germany and stampeded Japan.
Ellis plugged in Kelley O’Hara and Brian to replace the suspended Holiday and Rapinoe, respectively, in the quarterfinal against China, and used the Holiday-Brian-Lloyd triad intact to devastating effect in the last two games.
Ellis also found scoring alternatives to Morgan, who came into the tournament hobbled by an injury and laden with the goalscoring burden. Wambach scored only once and failed on a penalty kick; she and Morgan finished the tournament with one goal apiece. O’Hara, a forward in college and for her club team, scored her first international goal off the bench as a sub against Germany; in the final Holiday hit a golazo; and once Lloyd had converted her PK, the coach took advantage of a player who can score in bunches.
“After 15 minutes, I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming,” said Ellis. “We wanted to put them under pressure right from the start, and everything fell into place perfectly. To be honest, I couldn’t really have imagined things turning out better. However, I did know that my players were capable of doing something exceptional. That’s what they were born to do. The greater the pressure on their shoulders, the more they perform at a higher level.”