Midfielder Carli Lloyd scored on a first-half volley to lead the U.S. women’s soccer team to a 1-0 win over Japan and put the Americans’ Olympic title defense back on track at the Beijing Games.
The U.S. still looked far from gold-medal form, but did enough against a dangerous Japan side to pick up a much-needed three points in Group G after dropping its opener against Norway.
The Americans created a host of scoring opportunities, but were only able to capitalize in the 27th minute, when Lloyd volleyed a cross from defender Stephanie Cox just under the crossbar.
The 26-year-old Lloyd pumped her fists as she dashed to the U.S. bench and into the arms of her jumping teammates.
The United States, which plays New Zealand in its final group match on Tuesday in Shenyang, has three points in Group G. Japan has one point, and faces Norway next in Shanghai.
The U.S. looked determined not to repeat the flat performance that saw it surrender two early goals against Norway, and came out attacking against Japan.
In the opening minutes forward Amy Rodriguez, who was active up front in her first start at the games, headed wide of the post, before Lindsay Tarpley plowed through a crowd of defenders only to hit her left-footed shot right at Japan keeper Miho Fukumoto.
But Japan, which has never beaten the U.S. in 21 matches, threatened in the 14th minute. Forward Shinobu Ohno collected a cross in the middle of the box and dropped the ball to the unmarked Yukari Kinga, who knocked a right-footed shot from a tight angle just past the far post.
Japan had another solid scoring opportunity eight minutes later, when Yuki Nagasato flicked a throw-in from Aya Miyama to Homare Sawa, whose right-footed shot forced U.S. keeper Hope Solo to palm the ball over the crossbar.
Rodriguez remained active up front, making a host of runs down the left and middle, and also threatened in the air.
Japan pushed forward in the second half, and coach Nono Sasaki even brought on two extra forwards — Karina Maruyama and Eriko Arakawa — but the Japanese couldn’t find an equalizer despite a handful of chances.