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Lloyd helps U.S. win contrast of styles, and Olympic gold medal

LONDON -- Four thoughts on the U.S.'s 2-1 victory against Japan in the women's Olympic soccer final:

Carli Lloyd is your gold-medal hero: Again. U.S. midfielder Lloyd scored the game-winning goal in extra-time time against Brazil in the 2008 Olympic final, and she did it again on Thursday, striking twice to lead the U.S. to its fourth gold medal in the last five Olympics. The 30-year-old Lloyd wasn't even a starter for the U.S. heading into the Olympics, having lost her central-midfield spot to Lauren Cheney, but Shannon Boxx's injury in the opening minutes of the Olympic opener brought Lloyd back onto the field, and she stayed there the rest of the tournament. Lloyd's first goal on Thursday was an opportunist's strike, running onto Alex Morgan's cross for a ruthless header, and her second was a gorgeous 22-yard blast into the top corner. With four goals in the tournament and another starring role in a final, Lloyd has carved her name into the U.S. Soccer history books.

Hope Solo came up big too. With two monster saves, Solo showed once again that she's the best goalkeeper in the world. In the first half, Solo stretched to push Yuki Ogimi's shot off the crossbar, rescuing the U.S. from a sure goal. And then in the final minutes of the game, Solo faced a one-on-one against Japan's Mana Iwabuchi after Christie Rampone had given the ball away in the box. Just as she had in the '08 Olympic final against Brazil's Marta, Solo stood her ground and parried the shot that could have tied the game for Japan. Goalkeeping can make such a difference in the women's game?just ask France, which might have been on the field here tonight if it had a better netminder -- and Solo earned her stripes (and another gold medal) against Japan on Thursday.

Japan is such a worthy opponent. You have to hand it to the Japanese World Cup champions, who created numerous chances and had some bad luck, hitting the woodwork on a few occasions and getting a bad break when German referee Bibiana Steinhaus failed to call a clear hand-ball penalty on the U.S.'s Tobin Heath on a first-half free kick. But here's the interesting thing about the Japanese: They didn't spend any time complaining to the referee and just got on with playing soccer. When they went down 2-0 in the second half, Japan got back into the game quickly, pulling a goal back through Yuki Ogimi. This was a fun game to watch with contrasting styles (Japan's possession, the U.S.'s quick-strike athleticism), and hats off to both teams for playing memorable finals in two straight major tournaments. The world of women's soccer is better with Japan playing this way.

This U.S. team has written its own history. We place extraordinarily high standards on the U.S. women's soccer team, mainly because their predecessors in the 1990s set such high standards, serving as pioneers for the sport and winning tournaments left and right. But women's soccer is a lot more competitive these days than it was then, and yet these U.S. women have earned another Olympic gold medal, playing the kind of captivating soccer that has won over millions of fans in the United States. In the past two years we have seen the U.S. women win two games for the ages, coming back to win thrilling knockout games against Brazil (in the World Cup) and Canada (in the Olympic semifinals). We have seen them suffer a heartbreaking defeat in the World Cup final to Japan, and now we have seen them avenge that loss that had occupied their thoughts for an entire year. America can be proud of this U.S. team, which has met the expectations set for them -- and then some.

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