The United States women’s team began their quest for a fourth Olympic title in five tournaments with a 4-2 win over France at a sparsely populated Hampden Park in Glasgow.
Pia Sundhage’s defending champions fought back to regain parity by half-time after conceding two goals in the first 14 minutes. Substitute Carli Lloyd, who netted the extra-time game-winner against Brazil in the 2008 final, blasted the U.S. ahead on 56 minutes before Alex Morgan completed the scoring with her second of the game 10 minutes later.
The outcome was tough on France. Bruno Bini’s team controlled much of the game with their composed passing and impressive movement across the midfield. Morgan’s pace in attack allied with Abby Wambach’s physical strength allowed the U.S. to claw their way back via the direct route when little else seemed to be clicking.
Sundhage set her team out in its familiar 4-4-2 formation with Lauren Cheney partnering the veteran Shannon Boxx in central midfield. Tobin Heath and Megan Rapinoe provided the team’s width.
France adopted a modern 4-2-3-1 formation including six players who started for perennial French champions Olympique Lyonnais in their 2-0 win over 1. FFC Frankfurt in May’s Champions League Final.
Marie-Laure Delie operated as the lone striker with support coming from Gaetane Thiney, Louisa Necib and Elodie Thomis.
Captain Ophelle Meilleroux was the only non-Lyon player among Bini’s four defenders and goalkeeper.
France Take Advantage Of Surprising U.S. Naivety
Sundhage’s side opted to start the game with an unusual tactic. Four players slinked forward to the halfway line as Morgan and Wambach took the kick-off, creating a wave of six crashing forward as Christie Rampone looked to hoist an immediate long ball. The only problem was that the defender’s hoof was charged down, leaving France with a 4-vs-4 break that they couldn’t capitalize on.
The chasm between the U.S.’ front and back lines appeared again on 12 minutes and led to the game’s first goal. France’s defense worked the ball around their back line, sucking the U.S. midfield forward, before Wendie Renard changed the attack by launching a long ball toward the left wing. Thiney pounced on Amy Le Peilbet’s clearing header into the midfield vacuum and advanced unchallenged toward the U.S. penalty area before thwacking a high shot into Hope Solo’s net. The goalkeeper seemed to dive under the ball and subsequently failed to push the shot away.
The U.S. looked out of sorts in midfield. They surrendered possession cheaply and weren’t forming a good shape defensively, which allowed France’s supporting forwards time on the ball. Thomis had space to attack left-back Kelley O’Hara on 13 minutes, and she delivered a dangerous cross to the back post that Le Peilbet headed behind.
If Solo’s goalkeeping looked a little suspect on Thiney’s opener, there was nothing she could do about France’s second goal from the resulting corner kick. The U.S. failed to clear the ball from around their box and it eventually dropped to Delie a few yards back from the penalty spot. The Montpelier striker rifled in a shot that Solo’s valiant diving effort couldn’t redirect around the post. It was goal No. 37 for the prolific Delie in 42 international appearances.
Route One Gets U.S. On The Road
Wambach’s unparalleled aerial ability, twinned with some dubious French defending, threw the U.S. a lifeline on 18 minutes after an opening spell that threatened to wash the champions away. The 5’11” forward met Rapinoe’s left-wing corner at the back post, rising above Renard and Corine Franco to plant her header back into goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi’s right corner.
Elise Bussaglia had been stationed on the near post as Rapinoe’s delivery sailed deep. Yet the Paris St. Germain midfielder inexplicably vacated her position to scamper across the goal line, leaving a huge gap where Wambach’s header ended up crossing the line.
Morgan brought the U.S. level on 32 minutes with a finish that showcased her sharp movement and speed of thought. Solo launched a long free kick deep into the French half that saw Wambach and Renard competing for a header. Neither player made definitive contact and the ball fortuitously bounced into the penalty box between Meilleroux and Franco and into Morgan’s reach. There was still work to be done. The 23-year-old spun vivaciously to adjust her body into a shooting position before clipping a delightful finish past the advancing Bouhaddi.
France’s Superior Football Continues To Flourish
The U.S. midfield’s problems had increased on 17 minutes when Boxx left the game with a hamstring injury. Lloyd replaced her in the center, but even the cultured New Jersey native found it difficult to get her passing game going. Heath and Rapinoe were becoming isolated on the flanks as France controlled the play.
Another passage of neat build-up on 37 minutes ended with a great chance for Delie to put the Europeans back in front. France moved the ball from left to right before Franco delivered a deep cross into the box that found Delie dropping off Rampone’s shoulder. The 24-year-old’s first touch was exquisite, cushioning the ball on her chest as she back-pedaled, moving it into space for a shot away from the recovering Rampone. However, she couldn’t keep her weight over the ball as she swiveled and blazed it high over Solo’s crossbar from 12 yards.
Necib peeled to the right to gather a layoff from Delie one minute later and fed the ball inside to Bussaglia at the edge of the penalty area. She slipped it left to send the overlapping Thiney through on Solo’s goal, but a moment of indecision allowed the American goalkeeper to shut down her opponent’s shooting angle.
A perfect delivery from the right by Thomis on 39 minutes found Delie making another great run into the penalty area, this time between center-backs Rampone and Rachel Buehler, but her header was comfortably saved by Solo.
Morgan’s threat arose again one minute before the half ended when the Californian willingly chased a speculative long ball down the left wing. She managed to gain control and cut inside Meilleroux before being up-ended inside the penalty area. The French defender played the ball, but her tackle from behind led to slight appeals for a penalty kick from Wambach.
Substitutions Work Against France
There seemed little need for Bini to alter his approach for the second half with his side largely in control of the ball. The French head coach shook things up anyway with two changes. Laura Georges replaced Meilleroux to form an all-Lyon back line. More significantly, Eugenie Le Sommer came into the attack for Necib. Le Sommer lined up on the left side with the impressive Thiney moving centrally.
The rearrangements handed a slight initiative to the U.S., who were beginning to find a bit of rhythm with Lloyd now getting on the ball.
Another Rapinoe corner on 50 minutes almost led to the go-ahead goal after Wambach directed Lloyd’s bundled knock-down beyond Bouhaddi’s reach. Bussaglia hadn’t neglected her duties on this occasion and cleared the ball from the goal line. If only she’d stayed at her post moments after France had taken a two-goal lead.
Lloyd edged the U.S. in front on 56 minutes after a quick turnover put France in trouble. Rapinoe gathered the ball in space on the right after Le Sommer failed to control a clearance, and the bleach-blond playmaker advanced before finding Lloyd in space near the edge of France’s penalty area. Lloyd shifted the ball to her right before drilling a 25-yard shot into Bouhaddi’s far corner.
Japanese referee Sachiko Yamagishi ignored another U.S. penalty claim on 60 minutes when Sonia Bompastor bundled Morgan to the ground. A fourth goal looked likely as France’s defense began to crack, and it arrived six minutes later.
Rapinoe drifted into the center to receive Rampone’s ball out of defense and the right-midfielder quickly aimed to release Heath down the opposite flank with a diagonal ball behind Franco. It wasn’t the best attempt, but Franco missed her intended clearance to leave Heath with a clear path toward the penalty box. Her cutback found Wambach sliding in to challenge Bouhaddi at the near post, sending the ball squirming to the back post where Morgan was left with a simple two-yard tap-in.
France’s passing game resurfaced on 72 minutes and Rampone had to block Le Sommer’s volley out for a corner. Sandrine Soubeyrand, the 38-year-old veteran and her country’s most capped player, came on for midfielder Camille Abily as Bini used his final substitution to get back into the game.
Le Sommer’s cross on 80 minutes trickled just too far ahead of Delie, and Thomis wasted a glorious opportunity to half the deficit on 86 minutes when she overran the ball on a breakaway with just Rampone to beat.
That last chance showed a final flaw in the U.S.’ unimpressive performance. Every outfield player surged forward for Rampone’s deep free kick even though Thiney and Thomis remained stationed near the halfway line. The 37-year-old Rampone was negligently left short-handed when France cleared the ball and it should have been punished.
On the positive side for the U.S., the form of Morgan and Wambach was enough to carry them past the world’s sixth best side according to FIFA’s rankings despite falling well short of their potential performance level.
France showed enough with their play to suggest that they too can emerge from a tough group featuring North Korea and Colombia to reach the quarter-finals.