Aug. 21, 2008
By Michael Lewis
Hope Solo shines as U.S. women best Brazil for Olympic women's soccer gold medal
Beijing -- Almost 11 months ago, U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo left China in disgrace, ostracized by her teammates for controversial remarks she made after her benching in Women's World Cup semifinals.
|Hope Solo hugs Natasha Kai after their gold medal win.
Photo by Tony Quinn
Solo completed a remarkable personal comeback Thursday night, playing a vital role for the Americans as they captured their third Olympic women's soccer gold medal.
Solo was outstanding, helping to hold off a relentless Brazilian attack that came at the U.S. in waves after Carli Lloyd connected from 19 yards six minutes into extratime en route to a 1-0 victory.
Last Sept. 27 an angry Solo vented her frustration about the benching. Then U.S. coach Greg Ryan surprisingly had replaced her with veteran Briana Scurry as the Americans suffered their worst defeat in history, 4-0. "There is no doubt in my mind I would have made those saves," Solo said at the time.
On Thursday night she did, though Solo did not think she was vindicated.
"I don't even think about that, whatever I said last year," she said. "I am just enjoying this moment right now. I feel great. I just won a damn gold medal."
Solo admitted that she was waiting to play Brazil when it really counted. The Americans defeated the Brazilians in three friendlies this summer by 1-0 scores.
“We thought about that game all the time," she said. We’ve seen Brazil three times since that last match, but it wasn’t the same. On the world stage is when teams really come to play so it sat with us a little bit."
The Americans have won three of the four women's soccer gold medals, including 1996 and 2004, taking the silver in 2000.
Four years ago, the US. managed to survive a highly talented Brazilian side in Athens, Greece to win the Olympic crown, 2-1, on an extra-time goal by Wambach.
When referee Dagmar Damkovz whistled the game over, the U.S. team celebrated, hugging each other and dancing around the Workers Stadium field with American flags.
"I was floating out there," Solo said. "I haven't shed a tear. It seems unreal."
An ecstatic Solo walked onto the field wearing a pair of oversized, fake gold medals around her neck, waving to the crowd while on the cellphone to her brother.
"I couldn't even hear him," Solo said. "He was screaming."
Eventually, she would receive the real McCoy from FIFA president Sepp Blatter, which Solo wore when she exited the stadium.
The win climaxed a tournament in which the Americans weren't given much of a chance of winning, especially after losing their leading goal-scorer, Abby Wambach, to a broken leg last month. They lost their opening match to Norway, 2-0. surrendering two goals in the opening four minutes. The U.S. slowly picked up steam, winning five consecutive matches.
"After the first game, I didn't know that a gold medal would be possible," Lloyd said.
They rebounded to defeat Japan, 1-0, and New Zealand, 4-0, to win the first-round group and avoid world champion Germany and Brazil until the final. They outlasted archrival Canada in extratime in the quarterfinals, 2-1, and downed Japan in the semifinals Monday night, 4-2.
"We got better with each game," Solo said.
Solo made seven saves, but none was more important than the one she made on two-time FIFA player of the year Marta, blocking her six-yard attempt with her right forearm in the 72nd minute.
"I was ready to get up and [celebrate]," Brazil coach Jorge Barcellos said.
“I can’t even recall the saves or how it happened, but all I know is that I was playing with a different energy tonight and it just felt so good," she said.
The save did not surprise her good friend Lloyd, who stood by Solo during those tough times last year.
"I told a number of times she was by far the best goalkeeper in the world," she said. "That game today, she played unbelievable. If it wasn't for her, there would be two goals definitely in the back of the net."
Instead, it was Lloyd who would find the back of the net net.
The Brazilians dominated the match, although the Americans, who were better fit, did get stronger as the game progressed.
Early on, the Americans had major problems stringing together passes deep in the Brazilian third in a scoreless opening half as many of its passes wound up out of bounds well before the penalty area. The Americans looked tentative and nervous, particularly in the early going, playing as though they were trying not to make a mistake. In a word, their passing was horrible. Their passes went to no one, nowhere, to a Brazilian, and on many occasions, out of bounds.
Amy Rodriguez set up the winning goal. Breaking free of two Brazilians on her back, the USC striker waited for a streaking Lloyd before sending her the ball. Lloyd broke in and sent a 19-yard bullet to the right of goalkeeper Barbara before a crowd of 51,612.
"Never in my wildest dreams did I thought I would score the goal that would give us the Olympic gold," Lloyd said.
For U.S. coach Pia Sundhage, it was a dream come true as became the first foreign coach to lead a team to a national women's title.
Behind Marta, the Brazilians just about laid siege in the second extra period, firing shot after shot at the American goal. Either Solo was there to catch the ball or knock it away, the defense managed to block shots or Brazil could not find the target.
Lloyd almost sealed the match in the 117th minute, but her eight-yard shot hit the right post and bounded back into play.
The Brazilians had one last hurrah at the American goal. Marta sent a right-wing pass across the goalmouth that Angela Hucles managed to clear out of bounds in the 120th minute. Fourth official Christine Beck (Germany) signalled there would be one minute of extra time before Marta's last-gasp header went wide.