LONDON – Carli Lloyd has already had one kick in the head in this Olympic soccer tournament. She has no interest in another one.
That’s how a loss in today’s gold medal game against Japan would feel. A year ago, in Frankfurt, Germany, Lloyd and her mates lost the World Cup final to this same Japanese team on penalty kicks.
“It was horrible, to be honest, to be that close and losing,” said Lloyd, whose penalty-kick attempt that night sailed over the crossbar. “It made us all dig deeper. We knew we had the Olympics coming up, so we had something to look forward to.”
That won’t be the case after this game. There will be no shot at payback. And that is exactly what the Americans are looking for.
“I’ve been hoping for this final ever since I stepped off the podium in Germany,” U.S. star Abby Wambach said.
It can be debated which is the bigger, more prestigious event. Certainly, this game will have world-class atmosphere. Wembley Stadium, which holds about 83,000, is sold out. After the rough-and-tumble U.S.-Canada semifinal Monday night, won on an overtime header by Alex Morgan, there is real buzz about this tournament.
“We’re making it exciting for people,” said Lloyd, who was stomped on the head in the chippy semifinal game against the Canadians by Melissa Tancredi. “And giving them heart attacks.”
The Japanese play an elegant style based on ball control, patiently advancing the ball with short passes rather than taking the aggressive and sometimes risky runs the U.S. team likes. Of course, it helps when you have scorers like Lloyd and Morgan to complement Wambach’s all-around game and Megan Rapinoe’s playmaking skills.
The U.S. team will have to be physical with Japan in order to disrupt that passing game, but the players see a big difference between aggressive play and dirty play.
“It’s just tough,” Lloyd said. “Nothing dirty. It’s just the nature of the game. You have to bring a sense of toughness. When we high-pressure Japan, it does rattle them a little bit. I think that will be a key.”
As if they needed further motivation, the game will be team captain Christie Rampone’s last with the U.S. national team. Now 37, Rampone is the last of the 1999 World Cup champions and will play in her fourth Olympic gold-medal game to match her four World Cup final games. A loss would be hard for her to take.
“It would be heartbreaking,” Rampone said. “I have to take a look at the big picture. To be able to make it to four Olympics, four gold medal matches, I’ve had an unbelievable career. I never could have written it. I’m just going to be here, in the moment, and enjoy it.”