It was a match that lived up to its billing: the U.S., the world’s top-ranked women’s soccer team, taking on No. 3 France in a close contest that saw stellar play from both goalkeepers and ended with a 1-0 American victory.
The tense tone was set in the first minutes, with both offenses putting the ball into the penalty area for scoring chances – and both defenses quickly defusing those threats. That pattern held for all of the first half, and for part of the second.
The U.S. broke the 0-0 tie nearly 20 minutes into the second half, with Carli Lloyd putting away a ricochet that had eluded French goalie Sarah Bouhaddi’s grasp after a hard shot on the near post by Tobin Heath.
Shortly after that score, U.S. coach Jill Ellis moved to preserve the lead, inserting defender Ali Krieger into the game in place of Crystal Dunn — who had just been given a yellow card for a sliding tackle.
The U.S. was playing without another stalwart of its back line, as defender Julie Johnston wasn’t in the starting lineup. France repeatedly sought to exploit this by lofting corners and free kicks to the 6-foot-2 Wendie Renard.
France used a flurry of substitutions to try to equalize late in the second half, but the French side was unable to convert several scoring chances.
As in the U.S. victory over New Zealand on Wednesday, many spectators in Belo Horizonte seized every opportunity to jeer U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo. In what’s now become a familiar pattern, whistles rained down on the field as Solo handled the ball. When she kicked it away, fans yelled in unison, “Zika!”
That jeering is how many Brazilian fans have chosen to respond to Solo’s posting of a selfie last month that showed her wearing a protective hat and holding a can of bug spray.
Solo faced at least three dangerous shots in the first half, and she negated them all, getting her gloves on a header off a free kick; a close-range shot on a breakaway, and on another point-blank blast from a French attacker who had eluded the Americans’ defense. More threats came in the second, but Solo turned them away, and in some cases the shots dinged off the goal’s pipes.
France used an organized defense and a solid midfield to dominate possession in the game’s first 20 minutes, owning the ball for nearly 60 percent of the time. But the U.S. team leveled that statistic as the game wore on, and controlled possession in the second half.
With the win, the United States is 2-0 in Group G ahead of Tuesday’s match against Colombia at Amazonia Arena. The Americans are assured of advancing to the tournament’s knockout stage, which begins Friday.
The Americans are going for their fourth straight Olympic gold and their fifth in the last six Summer Games.