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In scoring all her side’s goals in the women’s football finals at Beijing 2008 and London 2012, the USA’s Carli Lloyd did what no other player has ever achieved before at the Olympic Games.
Held at the Workers’ Stadium before a 51,000 crowd, the final of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Women’s Football Tournament between the USA and Brazil proved to be a close contest.
The match was a repeat of the 2004 final in Athens, when the USA secured a 2-1 victory in extra time. And just as on that occasion, an additional 30 minutes was needed in the Chinese capital, after the match ended goalless in normal time.
The deadlock was broken six minutes into extra time. After receiving a pass from Lauren Cheney in the Brazilian half, US midfielder Carli Lloyd slipped a neat back-heel through to Amy Rodriguez before taking the return ball in her stride, racing to the edge of the box and firing an unstoppable left-footed strike into the far corner of Barbara’s goal. The USA held on to their lead, retaining the title with the narrowest of victories.
The USA returned to the Olympic final four years later in London, where they took on Japan, who had beaten them in a penalty shootout in the final of the FIFA Women’s World Cup a year earlier. The two sides resumed their rivalry at Wembley Stadium on 9 August 2012, in front of a crowd of 80,000, a record for a women’s Olympic final.
With seven minutes gone, a cross from Alex Morgan found Lloyd at the far post where she duly sent a left-footed volley past Japan goalkeeper Miho Fukumoto from point-blank range.
The score remained unchanged until the 54th minute, when Lloyd dribbled at pace through the opposition half, took aim from 20 yards and fired home a powerful shot to double her side’s lead. Though Yuki Ogimi reduced the deficit nine minutes later, the Stars and Stripes held their nerve and clinched a third consecutive gold with a 2-1 victory.
In grabbing the only goal in Beijing and that match-winning brace in London, Lloyd became the only player, male or female, to score all their team’s goals in two victorious finals.
That feat came as reward for her lifelong dedication to the game. “I threw myself into football when I was just five and, wherever I went, I’d always had a ball at my feet,” she explained. “I’d just play for hours and hours.”
Lauded for her technical ability, vision and goalscoring instincts, Lloyd made her international debut in 2005 and described her London brace as one of the greatest moments of her career.
As of early 2017, the mighty Lloyd had won over 230 caps and scored more than 90 goals for her country. An inspirational figure in the USWNT (United States Women’s National Team) and the captain of the side, she enjoyed a stellar 2015, picking up the FIFA World Player of the Year award for her efforts.
Lloyd made an outstanding contribution to the USA’s glorious campaign at the Women’s World Cup in Canada that year, helping her country win its first world title since 1999 and picking up the player of the tournament award in the process.
After getting her name on the scoresheet in the Round-of-16 match against Colombia, in the quarter-final against China and the semi against Germany, she then went and topped all her previous feats in the final against Japan, scoring a hat-trick in the opening 16 minutes of the game.
The Americans went on to win 5-2, a result that made them very firm favourites to land a fourth straight Olympic gold at Rio 2016, a status cemented by the fact that they continued their unbeaten run in the countdown to the Games.
Lloyd and her team-mates made the best possible start to their Olympic campaign in Brazil, downing 2-0 New Zealand in their first group match, with the talismanic midfielder scoring the opening goal nine minutes in. Lloyd then got the only goal of the game as the USA saw off France in their next match, which was followed by a 2-2 draw with Colombia.
Advancing to the quarter-finals as group winners, the USA took on Sweden in the quarter-finals at the Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha in Brasilia. It was there that their dreams of gold unexpectedly vanished, however, with the Swedes prevailing 4-3 on penalties after the two sides had played out a 1-1 draw after extra time.
Though the Americans missed out on a place on the Olympic podium for the first time since women’s football was introduced on the programme in 1996, with Germany succeeding them as champions, the 34-year-old Lloyd vowed that they would return at the next World Cup and Olympics: “You best believe that in 2019 and 2020 we're going to be back for the gold.”