Lloyd's goal lifts Americans past tough French to Olympic quarterfinals.
By Robert Wagman
(Saturday, August 6, 2016) -- In one of their most difficult matches in recent times, the United States women held on to defeat talented France 1-0 on midfielder Carli Lloyd's tally before another a small audience of 11,782 at Mineirão Stadium today in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
With one Group G game remaining, the Americans have assured advancement to the quarterfinals. The U.S. is 2-0-0 with six points, while France fell to 1-1-0 with three points. New Zealand (1-1-0, 3 points) recorded a 1-0 decision over Colombia (0-2-0, 0 ) in a later match.
U.S. plays Colombia at Amazônia in Manaus Tuesday at 6 p.m. (ET) in a meeting televised by NBC Sports Channel and Spanish-language NBC Universo.
France was the better team for much of the first half. It started strong and kept up the pressure on the Americans. France was especially effective in the midfield and kept the U.S. in disarray.
The best player for either team was France's lanky defender Wendie Renard, who stopped attack after attack by the Americans, winning any high balls that came her way.
In the second half, the U.S. finally got going early and started taking the match into the French end of the field. The American pressure resulted in the only goal when, in the 63rd minute, a long ball fell to Morgan Brian at the top of the penalty area. She passed to fellow midfielder Tobin Heath in the left side of the box.
Her hard shot was pushed onto the post by goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi, but the ball rebounded right to American attacker Carli Lloyd, who placed her 27th goal in her last 28 outings, a short distance into the open net.
As the march wore on, France regained momentum, but U.S. keeper Hope Solo rose to the occasion Among her six saves, she tipped a hard Renard header onto the crossbar and grabbed a close-range drive from Marie-Laure Delie, who had a good look at open net.
U.S. coach Jill Ellis was forced to make two changes from her lineup from the opener against New Zealand. Defender Julie Johnston was held out because of groin soreness and was replaced by Whitney Engen. Striker Malory Pugh suffered a knock to her ankle and was replaced by Crystal Dunn. Both moves were called precautionary and both players will likely be ready to play again by Tuesday.
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper Hope Solo - 7: She showed why she was making her world record 200th start with several key saves. She almost got in trouble in the first half when she whiffed on an attempted punch to clear a shot, but more than made up for that error with six saves, her best on a close range attempt from Marie-Laure Delie.
Defender Meghan Klingenberg - 4.5: She had a tough day, starting early when she frantically chased Delie, who broke free down the side. She was much better after intermission, but had much difficulty containing Delie.
Defender Becky Sauerbrunn - 7.5: She remained calm when the U.S. back-line was under pressure, consistently winning high balls and breaking up passes. Like Solo, she kept the U.S. in the match, especially in the first half.
Defender Whitney Engen - 6.5: She had a very nice debut, working well with Sauerbrunn to protect the middle and making some accurate passes out of the back, including one that led to the U.S. goal.
Defender Kelley O'Hara - 6: France worked the other side of the field almost exclusively so she was not all that busy, but she cleaned up what came her way and was able to press forward into the attack several times.
Midfielder Allie Long - 5: In the first half, she had her problems containing the French attack. She did better in the second half and near the end when the Americans were put under a lot of pressure.
Midfielder Morgan Brian - 5.5: Her pass to Tobin Heath resulted in the shot, whose rebound ended up the American goal. At times, she was not very involved, especially in the first half.
Midfielder Tobin Heath - 7: She, too, had first-half problems, but her play in the second half helped turn the match around. She tracked back often and made defensive plays. Her hard shot rebounded to Lloyd for the U.S. goal.
Midfielder Carli Lloyd - 6: To her credit, she made no mistake on the rebound for the goal. Otherwise, she had a frustrating day, being caught offside three times and not being sharp in her passing. She seemed to tire as the second half went on and looked ready to come out when she was replaced in the 82nd minute.
Forward Crystal Dunn - 6: She took French defenders on one-on-one and caused them a lot of problems with her pace. Some of her main contributions came when she tracked back and defended. She was replaced for a more defensive player.
Forward Alex Morgan - 5: She was completely held in check by defender Renard. She never seemed to get going and was largely ineffective most of the time.
Forward Ali Krieger (70th minute for Dunn) - 5.5: She played an important defensive role over the final minutes as France relentlessly attacked. She led several counterattacks that relieved pressure at the end, largely did what she was sent in to do.
Midfielder Lindsey Horan (82nd minute for Lloyd) - 6: She came on to provide defensive help over the final minute and immediately got the job done.
Midfielder Christen Press (90th minute for Klingenberg) - no rating: A time-wasting substitute.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Becky Sauerbrunn.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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