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Unbeaten this year, the reigning world champions USWNT kicked off 2016 by booking their place at Rio 2016, where they will go in search of a fourth consecutive Olympic title.
The Americans, who unsurprisingly sit atop the FIFA world rankings, were simply too strong for all of their opponents in the CONCACAF Zone Olympic qualifying competition, which took place in Houston, Texas, in February. Opening up with a 5-0 defeat of Costa Rica, the Stars and Stripes saw off Mexico 1-0, swept to a 10-0 win over Puerto Rico and then made short work of Trinidad and Tobago in the semis, with Alex Morgan contributing a hat-trick in a 5-0 victory that clinched their place in Rio. Facing them in the final were old rivals Canada, with the US easing to a 2-0 win courtesy of second-half goals from Lindsey Horan and Tobin Heath.
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They maintained their impressive momentum in March, winning the inaugural SheBelieves Cup thanks to 1-0 defeats of England and France, and a 2-1 victory over Germany, who lie one place behind them in the FIFA rankings.
The final of the women’s Olympic football tournament at London 2012 was one of the most memorable encounters in recent years. The US team had revenge on their mind as they strode out in front of a competition-record crowd of over 80,000 at Wembley Stadium, having lost out on penalties to the Japanese in the FIFA Women’s World Cup final in Germany the previous year.
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The Americans made the best possible start, with the talismanic Carli Lloyd getting on the end of Alex Morgan’s deep cross to volley them into the lead with only seven and a half minutes on the clock. Lloyd it was who then doubled her side’s lead just after the restart, the No10 embarking on a surging run from the halfway line and firing home from 20 yards out. Though the Japanese pulled one back through Yuki Ogimi a few minutes later, they could not prevent the US from making it three golds in a row.
Lloyd had also been the hero of the hour when the USWNT won the second of those golds in Beijing four years earlier, her stunning left-footed drive in extra-time giving her side a 1-0 win over Brazil.
The irrepressible Lloyd took centre stage again at the Women’s World Cup Canada 2015, helping the Stars and Stripes secure the title for the first time since 1999. Undefeated in the first round, the US then saw off Colombia 2-0 in the last 16, China 1-0 in the quarters and Germany 2-0 in the semis, before once again facing Japan in the final. Captain Lloyd all but settled the game with a quick-fire hat-trick in the opening 16 minutes, with Lauren Holiday also chipping in to put the US virtually out of sight at 4-0.
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There was no way back for the Japanese as the USA eased to a 5-2 win that was capped by the late introductions of veterans Abby Wambach and Christie Rampone from the bench.
Not surprisingly, Lloyd walked away with the awards for player of the tournament and leading goalscorer, while team-mate Hope Solo earned the Golden Glove as the competition’s outstanding goalkeeper.
Assessing the USWNT’s prospects of making it four Olympic golds in a row in Rio, star striker Morgan said: “It’s a new team. We’ve moved on from 2015, and all our thoughts are on Rio now. We need to dream big because dreams can come true.”