Carli Lloyd was the woman on the spot yet again, as the US women's national team edged France 1-0 in a tense, dramatic Olympic Group G match at Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte, Brazil on Saturday afternoon.
France dominated the run of play and were superior in every numerical category, except the score, thanks to a simple tap-in for the USWNT's captain just past the hour mark. (WATCH FULL HIGHLIGHTS HERE)
Expected goals in first half:— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) August 6, 2016
France 0.76, #USWNT 0.09.
Lloyd gets credit for the goal on paper. But most of the work was done by Morgan Brian and Tobin Heath, who clanged a low shot off the base of French goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi's near post after Brian's savvy pass found her in open space, the rebound sitting up perfectly for the USA's No. 10 to knock home from close range.
Superior in possession throughout, France kept US goalkeeper Hope Solo busy all evening. But Les Bleues could not find a way through, going closest in the 42nd minute when an incisive passing sequence carved open the US defense (which was missing center back Julie Johnston due to a groin injury) to give Marie-Laure Delie a glorious look from 10 yards out that Solo blocked impressively.
It was a clutch performance to mark Solo's 200th international cap (and amazingly, her 102nd clean sheet).
Both teams are still likely to advance to the knockout stage, depending on what happens when they round out group play on Tuesday.
USA: 1-Hope Solo; 5-Kelley O'Hara, 6-Whitney Engen, 4-Becky Sauerbrunn, 7-Meghan Klingenberg (12-Christen Press, 90); 3-Allie Long, 14-Morgan Brian, 10-Carli Lloyd (capt.) (9-Lindsey Horan, 82); 16-Crystal Dunn (11-Ali Krieger, 70), 13-Alex Morgan, 17-Tobin Heath
Subs not used: 2-Mallory Pugh, 8-Julie Johnston, 15-Megan Rapinoe, 18-Alyssa Naeher
Head Coach: Jill Ellis
FRA: 16-Sarah Bouhaddi; 8-Jessica Houara, 3-Wendie Renard (capt.), 2-Griedge Mbock Bathy, 7-Amel Majri; 10-Camille Abily (17-Kheira Hamraoui, 83), 6-Amandine Henry, 15-Elise Bussaglia; 13-Kadidiatou Diani, 18-Marie-Laure Delie (11-Claire Lavogez, 86), 14-Louisa Cadamuro (12-Elodie Thomis, 70)
Subs not used: 1-Meline Gerard, 4-Sakina Karchaoui, 5-Sabrina Delannoy, 9-Eugenie Le Sommer
Head Coach: Philippe Bergeroo
63' - USA - Carli Lloyd
1. ALL SHE DOES IS SCORE GOALS: Carli Lloyd didn't have her best day by any stretch of the imagination, struggling with her passing and forced to chase the ball for long periods as the French bossed the midfield. But like so many other greats, she found a way to make a difference, ghosting into the danger area to latch onto the rebound of Heath's effort. It looked easy, but she got there before anyone else, and kept her nerve. Taking a win instead of a draw here could prove significant when the quarterfinal matchups shake out in a few days.
2. TOBINHA! On Friday a USSoccer.com feature on Tobin Heath playfully suggested that the tricky winger is Brazilian at heart, and she proved why with some impudent flair and swagger on the ball vs. France. Crucially, though, she also showed the battling qualities that some have questioned in the past, drawing fouls and covering acres of ground up and down the left flank. But it's the flashy stuff that goes viral, of course...
3. FRANCE FALL SHORT AGAIN: The performance was admirable in so many ways, but Saturday's final result was a painfully familiar slap in the face for Les Bleues. This is a team with so much quality, yet time and again they fail to turn the screw and finish the job when they have the US at their mercy. Like Spain's men before they finally got their hands on a trophy in 2008, it's not hard to imagine them blossoming into the world's best once they get over the hump...but the next step is the hardest.