The U.S. women’s national team is in the driver’s seat of Group G at the 2016 Olympic Games following a 1-0 victory over France, widely considered the second-best side in the four-team field, Saturday in Belo Horizonte, stretch their own record streak to 13 games unbeaten in Olympic competition.
[ MORE: Full Olympic coverage at Olympic Talk ]
The first half saw the USWNT struggle mightily and France look, time after time, the more likely side to find a goal. Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan’s influence was essentially nil through the first 45, largely due the Americans’ ill-advised direct approach. Wendie Renard, France’s do-everything, towering central defender who thwarted foray after foray into her defensive half, was the standout performer for Les Bleues.
On the other end of the field, it was Hope Solo, making her 200th international appearance (she became the first goalkeeper to reach the milestone), that stood head and shoulders above the rest, bailing out the teammates in front of her with a massive save of Marie-Laure Delie’s one-on-one chance in the 42nd minute.
Following the halftime intermission, it was all USWNT. Jill Ellis clearly instructed her defenders — Whitney Engen, who started in place of the injured Julie Johnston, in particular — to slow the tempo and build out of the back.
It took just 18 minutes of that altered approach for the USWNT to break through. Tobin Heath broke down the left flank and fired a left-footed shot off the front of the near post, which sent the ball caroming across the face of goal and right into the path of Carli Lloyd, who had no trouble turning the ricochet home from three yards out.
Solo was called upon again in the 77th minute to once again deny Delie, this time on a bouncing header from the top of the six-yard box. Less than two minutes later, Ali Krieger went inches from scoring a disastrous own goal, but the Olympic debutant’s thumping clearance wound up just on the safe side of the post.
With one game left to play — against Colombia on Tuesday (6 p.m. ET — Watch live on NBCSN and NBCOlympics.com), the Yanks (six points) now possess a three-point advantage on France in Group G, meaning a draw is all they need to finish top of the group. Doing so would put them at the top of the knockout bracket, likely separating them from Germany and Canada until the gold-medal game. In that event, Brazil would be the USWNT’s most likely semifinal foe.