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Added 10th August 2012, 12:57 in

LONDON 2012 Olympic Women's Football Final: USA v JAPAN Comments & Reactions

It wasn’t the Wembley final that GB fans had hoped for, but Japan v USA was a grand one for the neutral...

Quite how many neutrals were in the 80,203 strong crowd - that’s a record for women’s football at the Olympics and in Europe by the way - was hard to tell.

There was certainly a wall of noise around Wembley when Carli Lloyd used her head to nick the ball off Abby Wambach’s toe (brave/crazy, delete as appropriate) to put the USA 1-0 up after just eight minutes. It was a priceless moment, not least because it set USA coach Pia Sundhage off on a gleeful run and jump of celebration. It was like watching a two-year old practice for the long jump. David Pleat eat your heart out.

Japan fans found their voice as the half went on though, and they had plenty to shout about. Yuki Ogimi forced a fingertip save off Hope Solo, a blatant handball decision didn’t go Japan’s way and Shinobu Ohno placed a curling shot just past the post.

Oh and Azusa Iwashimizu almost scored an own goal.  Little wonder coach Norio Sasaki was dishing out coaching tips to his defence before they had even left the pitch at half time. It was a bright finish from Japan though and they were unlucky not to have scored.



Lady luck had nothing to do with USA’s second goal nine minutes after the break, Lloyd’s blistering shot into the far corner capped a fine individual move. And if those of us in the stadium thought the woman on the microphone had a good pair of lungs on her when she tried to jolly a Mexican wave along at the interval, she had nothing on the USA fans. Boy can they scream.

Anything the Stars and Stripes flag wavers could do, the Japan fans could do just as well and when Ogimi pulled one back just after the hour, the place erupted. It was like that unforgettable World Cup final night in Frankfurt all over again. We hoped.

But though Japan plugged away at an equaliser in this gold medal tie (and they didn’t half give it a go), it wasn’t to be. The whistle went and the Olympic champions had retained their crown and the wounds of last year’s penalty shoot out loss to Japan were salved. It was their third consecutive gold medal win. I’m not sure there was any need to play Spandau Ballet at the end of the match though.

Yet it was a GOLD!-en moment and the entertainment was far from over.  The USA had a new t-shirt to show us and its message was ‘Greatness Has Been Found’. So it had, though for a moment nothing seemed as great as the impromptu Dad dance performed by USA coach Sundhage in the centre circle [more on that later]. How we smiled. And then we cried as, in the midst of all the celebrations, the

Japan players took the humblest of bows to the crowd.

It was an emotional finale for the World Champions but we needn’t have worried, by the time the podiums had been hand crafted on the Wembley pitch, Japan were ready to lead the USA and Canada out for their medals. They came out dancing. Like a giant robotic snake. How ace is that?

Then came the medals, the boos for FIFA boss Sepp Blatter (who was only handing out flowers but didn’t seem a popular choice), and the photocalls. 

There were none of the fireworks or gold ribbon streamers of other cup finals, but this is the Olympics and we don’t really need to get smoke in our noses or run home to our mates waving bits of plastic ribbon to prove that we enjoyed ourselves. We just did. And so did the teams, so here are a few more quotes from an unforgettable night.

 

 

Japan head coach Norio Sasaki

On what he said to the team before the game: 

There was a meeting and all of us got together and talked about how we have played for the last five years. They had their own meeting before I joined them, so the atmosphere was good and they had a high morale so I didn’t need to say much to them. I told them that we play our own football and we do our best in our own way.


On the game:

The players played very well and they had a goal which was to win the medal to be champions but the result was not what we expected. But, I believe they played very well and I am very proud of them. 


On what he said at half time:

I told them to play more aggressively to score and they understood and played their best. 


On the penalty shout:

That’s the judgement of the referee, I wondered about it at the time but I respect the referee.


On the talk at full time:

Even though we were defeated if I look objectively they all played well and we have nothing to be ashamed of.  I’m very satisfied with the way they played and thankful to the players for having a silver medal. I told them they should feel proud of themselves and their accomplishment.


On the future of the women’s game:

I believe the game is changing and developing and it’s not only about skill or the physical side, it’s also about the defence and organisation which itself has been developing, they are all getting better.


Japan midfielder Homare Sawa

On the experience:

Since I became a national member, winning an Olympic medal has been one of my goals and unfortunately I could not get a gold and I feel regretful but we had the best team mates and coach and I would like to thank all the staff, I’m very thankful to all of them. 


Japan captain Aya Miyama

On the game:

In football you never know what’s going to happen so we didn’t give up until the end and tried to score and tried to shoot.


On the experience:

I am so grateful to all the staff and my colleagues. I would just like to say thank you. I am proud of myself and I am proud of my team mates. It was an amazing experience and to play against USA who are a super team. It’s so nice.



 

USA head coach Pia Sundhage

On how she feels after winning gold:

I am happy and I’m happy for the players because they put together a very good performance from the very beginning against France to today against Japan. It’s phenomenal.


On the game:

We started the game in a good way and got a goal but after that we were way too conservative in the way we defended and attacked. We couldn’t get the outside backs going forward, especially on the left side.  A lot of credit to Japan, because the way they played - keeping possession, a good technique and rhythm - they forced us to change the game plan a bit. We wanted to keep possession but Japan were too good for us.


On her opponents:

I have to give credit to Japan the way they played and kept possession. I think many of us coaches should watch Japan and learn from the way they keep possession and are dangerous. I would also like to give credit to this team, from Hope Solo to Carli Lloyd to Abby Wambach, the way we defended and played with huge heart. So even though we played against a very good team, when it really matters in a final in Wembley, we won a gold medal and I give a lot of credit to the players.


On Hope Solo (right):

Hope is a good goalkeeper and today she made the difference, coming out huge. We didn’t make it easy for her because one thing she is good at is starting the build up but we were a bit conservative going from defence to attack, so she made some good decisions during the whole game.


On dealing with Solo off the pitch:

Hope Solo says a lot on Twitter, I don’t follow her but what matters is what kind of team player she is and her performance. I don’t control anybody. I’ve had a couple of discussions with the players in general and as long as you are proud of what you are telling people and look at the consequences you’ll be fine. Today she had a great game and brought the gold back home to the United States of America.


On the game plan:

Japan are the world champions and we had a game plan and that was keep possession in order to defend. That didn’t work because Japan kept the ball and we were too eager to find the final pass or play long, but the beauty of this team is that they changed tactics. They found a way to win. It was a lot of defending and they played with huge heart. Wonderful.


On her jig of joy in the centre of the pitch:

I was reminding myself I was at Wembley and it is a final and the players got gold, and everything we’ve been doing since the World Cup, we’ve been very focused and trying to do the right thing [so I was] just embracing that feeling, it’s happiness and it’s hard to explain in English and in Swedish anyway. This is just the beginning of something huge on the women’s side. Not only the way the women are playing but also the recognition that they get every day. We are at the beginning of something fantastic.


On what she said to her team afterwards:

After the game I didn’t say anything. Half time I wanted them to enjoy the moment and play the soccer they can play. We were talking about sending people forward, about keeping possession, but to be honest I don’t think that worked. On the other hand, the defending and the way they found a way to win, I give Abby Wambach a lot of credit for that. She is a leader. Today we won the gold medal with a couple of leaders and that is a great development. 


On Christie Rampone:

Rampone is a mother, she is a role model and she’s one of the best captains around, including myself when I was captain of the Swedish team. She leads by example and there’s a reason why she plays in the national team and is fairly old - she does everything right and is a good leader for the team.


On her future:

To be the coach for the women’s national team in the States it’s the best job in the world right now. It’s all about timing, right now I have no clue what’s going on the next year. What I promised myself is to enjoy the moment. This team have made me successful and I think if at the start of 2008 to today they have made me look good and I’m grateful for that.


On what is good about coaching the USA team:

Stand next to Alex Morgan, stand next to Abby Wambach, you have experience and youth. In 2015 there will be a World Cup in Canada and I think the USA could be unstoppable because they have young players. They are physical and have great attitude and if you add to that great technique, that is very exciting.

(Below: Kelley O'Hara (left) and Heather MItts. Yet again: young and old.)



On the tournament as an advert for the women’s game:

One thing that stands out is its exciting and unpredictable. I don’t think many people even in the women’s football would have Canada winning the bronze medal, which is important for the women’s game because one thing that people like in general is if it’s exciting and unpredictable. I think there are so many other teams right now, back in 1991 you had Norway, Sweden, Germany, US. There was a big difference between the best teams and players and the worst teams. That is not the case today and we have many teams that could win the World Cup 2015. If you look at the games in [the World Cup] 2007 when Germany didn’t concede a goal and look at the game today it’s different. 


Words: Catherine Etoe

Images: Gavin Ellis/SHEKICKS/tgsphoto.co.uk


 

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