Goalkeeper Hope Solo may not be popular in Brazil these days, but American fans sure should be happy that she is there.
In their second match of the Rio 2016 group stage on Saturday, the Americans were thoroughly out-played by France for long stretches, but on the back of some spectacular Solo saves and an all-around great goalkeeping performance, the Americans eked out a 1-0 win. It was Solo's 102nd career shutout and a milestone 200th cap for the goalkeeper.
France out-shot the Americans by a very lop-sided 14-5 and Solo was forced to make six saves. France goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi recorded just one save.
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Carli Lloyd would again be the difference, pouncing on a rebound in the 63rd minute for the match's only goal. Lloyd also scored the game-winner against New Zealand on Wednesday in their Olympics opener, but Saturday was Solo's turn in the spotlight.
In one of her biggest saves, Solo charged off her line a couple minutes before the first half ended to block a Marie-Laure Delie shot from a point-blank range. Solo would deny Delie again in the 77th minute, making a lunging stop to deny a strong headed effort.
The Brazilian crowd resumed their taunts of Solo from the opening game, booing every time she touched the ball over the course of the 90 minutes and chanting "Zika!" in unison on every goal kick. The chants are a response to Solo having expressed worries over the Zika virus in Brazil. Solo said after the win against New Zealand that the chants didn't bother her, and on Saturday she certainly played like she was locked into the game.
"Hope is ice, nothing can rattle her," Lloyd said afterward. "She had a fantastic game tonight, huge saves and came up really big."
Beyond her saves, Solo was a crucial presence throughout the evening. She was commanding in the box, tracking incoming attacks, plucking crosses out of the air and shouting instructions to keep her back line organized.
France looked poised to find an equalizer very late as they threw wave after wave of attack at Solo. In the 89th minute, Solo made a crucial punch to deny a header opportunity for a France team that was dominating the U.S. in the air.
For the Americans, they were lucky to have weathered a first half where France was simply the better side, stringing together more than double the number of passes in the attacking third than the U.S., according to ESPN. The Americans improved in the second half enough for the game-winning goal. A Tobin Heath shot was knocked off the post by Bouhaddi, but Lloyd was there to tap in the rebound.
The French were organized on both sides of the ball with centerback Wendie Renard in particular having an excellent performance, shutting down the U.S. attack and serving as a constant threat in the air. Bouhaddi had a quieter evening but made an impact, including coming way out of goal in the 57th minute to cut out what would've been a Morgan Brian breakaway.
With a big win against the No. 3-ranked team in the world and their toughest competition in Group G, the U.S. women look poised to top the group and advance to the knockout stage. But first they will finish out group play against Colombia on Tuesday night.
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