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Sports

US women take Olympic revenge on Japan for World Cup

It was the same match, with a different outcome. The US has beaten Japan 2-1 in a hotly-contested gold medal match at Wembley stadium - turning the tables after last year's women's World Cup final in Frankfurt.

The two teams, and even German referee Bibiana Steinhaus, were the same - only the stadium and the competition had changed when the US and Japan again fought for bragging rights in the world of women's football.

Eventually, the result also proved to be reversed, with the US overcoming their penalty shootout disappointment in the World Cup last summer and securing their third consecutive Olympic gold. It was also their fourth out of all five women's Olympic tournaments ever held. The medal was even enough, after a strong day on the track, to put the US temporarily above China in the official medal table.

The Americans sprinted out of the blocks, with creative attacker Alex Morgan spurning an excellent early opportunity, firing an uncontested shot straight into goalie Miho Fukumoto's grateful arms.

Shortly thereafter, with less than eight minutes on the clock, Morgan turned provider instead, finding space on the left flank to cross. Target woman Abby Wambach had skillfully made space for herself at the far post and while it first looked like she had volleyed the ball home, Carli Lloyd had beaten Wambach to the punch - getting her dipped head to the ball first.

The early advantage did little to settle the US side, however. The technically gifted Japanese started to show why they're often considered the Spain of women's football during the rest of the first period, establishing prolonged periods of possession and taking control of the midfield battle.

Set piece wizard Aya Miyama hit the cross bar shortly after the half-hour mark with a vicious long-range effort, while Shinobu Ohnu couldn't quite get enough curl on her in-swinging effort a few minutes later.

Japanese captain and world player of the year Homare Sawa was pulling the strings in the center, ably assisted by her more defensive partner in crime Mizuho Sakaguchi - but despite Japan's pressure, it remained 1-0 to the US when Steinhaus called the first half to a close.

Lloyd doubles up

Steinhaus was in sharp focus after the restart, as she elected not to penalize a scuffle in the US penalty area where Rachel Buehler appeared to have impeded an attacker.

The US then stretched their lead, again finding the net in the opening ten minutes of the half.

Thirty-year-old midfielder Lloyd capped an unforgettable evening her second strike of the final and arguably the goal of the tournament. After innocuously picking the ball up near the half-way line, Lloyd moved forward with pace and purpose. She rounded the otherwise impressive Sakaguchi with ease and then blasted a right-footed shot into the left-hand corner. As with the earlier goal, Japanese keeper Fukumoto was relegated to the role of spectator.

Two down, but not yet out with well over half an hour to play, Japan looked to their bench, ultimately making three attacking changes to the lineup.

Yet it was two of the starters, Sawa and forward Yuki Ogimi, who brought them back into the match with 63 minutes on the clock. Sawa's first shot was brilliantly blocked on the goal line by veteran US captain Christine Rampone, but she then failed to clear the ball properly. Sawa got another bite at the cherry before Ogimi provided the decisive touch, redirecting the ball into Hope Solo's net from point-blank range.

The World Cup winners pushed forward in the latter stages, seeking to emulate the 2-2 pre-penalties score from last year's final in Frankfurt. Many of their best chances came from set pieces against an aggressive US defense, but the Japanese lacked the aerial firepower to compete for Miyama's solid deliveries.

USkeeper Hope Solo came to the rescue in the closing minutes to make amends for a defensive howler in front of her. Substitute Becky Sauerbrunn conceded possession right in front of goal with her very first touch, but Mana Iwabuchi - herself fresh off the bench - was unable to beat the US talisman between the sticks.

The remaining chances fell at the insignificant end from a neutral perspective, with Wambach coming closest to a goal in the dying minutes of the match.

The 2-1 win secures a third consecutive football gold for the US women, a consolation for coach Pia Sundhage and her squad after a hat trick of World Cup disappointments. For all their success in the women's game, the US will be seeking its first World Cup triumph of the 21st century in Canada in 2015, after Germany snagged the top trophy in 2003 and 2007.