BEIJING — When the U.S. women's soccer team lost its top scorer on July16 in a match with Brazil, it seemed like the Americans' hopes for an Olympic medal of any kind weren't so good.
But the U.S. team - convinced it could be just as strong even without forward Abby Wambach - didn't believe that. The Americans beat Brazil 1-0 in overtime on Thursday night (Thursday morning in the United States) for the gold medal.
Carli Lloyd scored the only goal on a left-footed shot in the first of the two 15-minute overtime periods of a very physical match played on a slippery wet field.
It was Wambach who had scored the winning goal for the Americans back in 2004, when they also beat Brazil in the Olympic final. Without her here, though, the U.S. had a more diversified attack and that paid off with the program's third Olympic gold medal. Soccer became an Olympic sport for women in 1996, and the Americans have won every Olympic tournament except in 2000.
This match was yet another heartbreaker for the Brazilians, who have never won the Olympics or the Women's World Cup. Brazil crushed the Americans 4-0 at last year's Women's World Cup semifinals, only to lose to Germany in the final.
That loss last year to Brazil was an especially difficult one for the Americans because the team was fractured afterward.
Then-coach Greg Ryan pulled starter Hope Solo from goal and put in veteran Brianna Scurry, who struggled in the loss. Solo's critical comments afterward got her banned from the bronze-medal match and forced her into an exiled existence for a while on her own team.
But differences were patched up, and Solo played a huge part in the Americans winning this gold medal under coach Pia Sundhage, a former standout for the Swedish national team.