After 45 minutes of play, the United States have a 1-0 lead over Japan in the gold medal match for women's soccer in the 2012 Olympics, but they've dodged quite a few bullets to get into halftime with a clean sheet.
The United States got off to a brilliant start in the opening 10 minutes of the match. Alex Morgan was their most active player early, setting up a half-chance with a knocked down header in the 2nd minute and producing a shot on target in the 3rd minute. In the 6th minute, she was taken down by Saki Kumagai, but no foul was given. Two minutes after that, her hard work was finally rewarded.
Carli Lloyd scored the game's opening goal in the 8th minute off of a fantastic assist from Morgan. Tobin Heath played a great ball into the box low for Morgan, who turned and floated a cross to the back post. Abby Wambach was waiting to volley it into the back of the net, but she was beaten to the ball by Lloyd's late run into the box. The USWNT midfielder got her head onto the ball and powered it into the net, giving the United States a 1-0 lead.
While the United States played well and certainly held their own for the rest of the half, there's no question that Japan was the much better side after the early goal. They had two spectacular back-to-back clearances cleared away in unlucky fashion less than 10 minutes after the goal.
Christie Rampone made a great 17th minute clearance on a shot by Nahomi Kawasumi, and her rebound attempt pinballed around between her, Rachel Buehler and Hope Solo before going out of play. Less than a minute after that, Solo produced her best save of the tournament.
Solo was a bit out of position and didn't react as quickly as she usually does on the header by Yuki Ogimi, but recovered excellently to tip the shot onto the crossbar and deny Japan an equalizer.
Japan should have had a penalty kick mid-way through the first half, but referee Bibiana Steinhaus didn't spot it. Following a free kick, Heath handled the ball clearly, with her arm out in her own penalty area, but it wasn't caught by officials and the United States was let off the hook.
Three minutes later, Japanese defender Azusa Iwashimizu almost scored an all-time classic own goal. On a ball into the box by Lloyd, she jumped to clear the ball away from Morgan with a header. Unfortunately, she didn't keep the ball clear of her net. This was the result.
Why she thought that was a good idea, no one will ever know.
Japan would have two more excellent chances before the end of the half, but was unable to capitalize on their opportunities. In the 34th minute, Shinobu Ohno set up Aya Miyama for a great opportunity, but Miyama's shot from 12 yards out hit against the crossbar and went out for a goal kick. Shortly afterwards, in the 37th minute, Ogimi set up Ohno for a shot at the end of a great long passing build-up. Ogimi played a perfect layoff ball with her back to goal, but Ohno's curled shot went just wide of the far post.
The United States' first eight minutes were promising and ultimately produced a goal against a Japan team that started poorly, but they're lucky that they didn't concede an equalizer. In last year's World Cup final, the United States also took a 1-0 lead against a Japanese team that kept the ball better than they did, and eventually ended up losing that match. Japan has too much quality to fail to score while playing this way for another 45 minutes.
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