BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil — The U.S. women’s soccer team ratcheted things up in the second half and used a goal by Carli Lloyd to beat France 1-0 in their Olympic group stage game on Saturday at the Estádio Mineirão.
Overcoming a first half in which France outshot the U.S. 8-1 and dominated the central midfield, the Americans started turning the tide early in the second half and scored when Lloyd put in a rebound after Tobin Heath had hit the post.
The victory put the U.S. into first place in the group with six points. The U.S. can clinch the group with at least a tie against Colombia in Manaus on Tuesday.
Here are my three thoughts on the game:
Result feels familiar
France has a history of outplaying good teams in major tournaments but still finding a way to lose, and that happened again here.
Marie-Laure Delie was in alone in the first half on U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo, earning her 200th cap, and Solo stonewalled the French striker with a fantastic save. In the days before the game, much of the talk had been about the U.S.’s superior mentality in big games, and that appeared to come true again in the second half. The U.S. started creating more chances, and when Heath hit the post it was Lloyd (no coincidence) who was in the right place at the right time for the follow and made no mistake.
The U.S. defense came through with another clean sheet, and you leave this game thinking the U.S. just knows how to win in tough situations like this.
Solo is the world’s best keeper
Booed even louder by the Brazilian fans in this game than she was on Wednesday, Solo paid no attention and played at a superior level when called upon. How Solo prevented a rebound after her point-blank save on Delie was anyone’s guess, and the U.S. keeper made a couple more important saves in the second half as France frantically tried to close the deficit.
It seemed like Solo owned Delie mentally, and it made you wonder what would have happened had usual starter Eugenie Le Sommer (suffering a minor injury) been in Delie’s place. But you know what? Solo might well have stopped Le Sommer, too, with the way the American was playing.
These teams could meet again in the final
That’s exactly what I predicted in SI before the tournament, and we’re still on track for that to happen. In my opinion, these are the two best teams in the world right now, and I don’t think No. 3 is all that close. That said, for France to recover and reach the final Les Bleues will need to find the cutting edge in the big moments to do more than just play pretty soccer and get the ball in the back of the net.
The French defense is good—Wendie Renard had one of the best center back performances I’ve ever seen in women’s soccer—but so is the U.S.’s back line. Whitney Engen stepped in for the injured Julie Johnston and played well, while Becky Sauerbrunn had her usual magisterial game. And when the teams left the field it was the U.S. that had pitched the shutout, not France.