WEMBLEY, England – Abby Wambach didnt put on her Greatness Has Been Found T-shirt right away. She instead strayed from her teammates and knelt alone at midfield – and cried into a U.S. flag.
Yes, greatness has been found. And payback has been achieved.
The Americans are again on top of the womens soccer world.
The United States won its third straight Olympic gold medal Thursday, beating Japan 2-1 in a rematch of last years World Cup final and avenging the most painful loss in its history.
They snatched our dream last summer, U.S. midfielder Megan Rapinoe said. And this kind of feels like the nightmare turned back around.
Carli Lloyd scored early in both halves, Hope Solo made a lunging late save as the Japanese pushed frantically for a tying goal, and the entire roster found the redemption it had been seeking since that penalty kick shootout loss in Germany last year.
We came so close to winning the World Cup, Wambach said. We knew if we put our energy and belief in each other into this year, we could pull off something special.
Before 80,203 fans at Wembley Stadium, an Olympic record for a womens soccer game, the teams put on a back-and-forth, dont-turn-your-head soccer showcase, proving again that these are the two premier teams in the world.
Back home, America was paying attention. Even President Obama, while visiting the U.S. Olympic Committees training center in Colorado Springs, Colo., offered a special shout-out to the womens team for its victory.
At the final whistle, there was a group-hug celebration that unleashed a year of bottled-up frustration. Many of the players paraded with the flag and put on the celebratory T-shirts.
Solo was at center of the biggest scrum, fitting for a player who was so crucial to the victory. The goalie gets a lot of flak for her off-field pursuits – including Dancing With the Stars and her candid comments on Twitter – but she made several plays Thursday that showed again that shes the best in the world at what she does.
Hope Solo, she says a lot on Twitter, I guess. I dont follow her, U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said. But what matters is what kind of team player she is and how she performs. ... Today Hope Solo had a very good game. She brought the gold back to the United States of America.
Wambach, the outspoken co-captain who missed the Beijing Games with a broken leg, was always the player most impassioned about the mission to get the Americans back atop the podium. She had spoken of nightmares from the Japan defeat, and now theyve been replaced by tears of happiness.
The loudest cheers erupted when she received her gold medal, and she was the only one to get a hug from American IOC member Angela Ruggiero, who put the medal around Wambachs neck.
The Olympics is a perfect platform in terms of what life is, Wambach said. You cannot win at everything you attempt in life. You have to be willing to fail and fall flat on your face in order to get glory. And we really did fail last year, in our opinion. We have to give Japan credit. Theyre a fantastic team.
But anything less than winning for us is a failure. And we worked tirelessly all year long to prove that we still can win and we are still champions.
The U.S. team has won four of the five Olympic titles since womens soccer was introduced at the 1996 Atlanta Games, taking second place at the 2000 Games in Sydney.