It was a case of Déjà vu as the USA beat Brazil to the gold medal in extra time for the second straight Olympic final on Thursday in Beijing. A Carli Lloyd goal in the 96th minute was the only difference between the sides as they collect their third top Olympic prize in four instalments. Brazil, as they did four years ago in Athens, and last year at the FIFA Women's World Cup, have to tearfully settle for silver.
The contest began cautiously with both sides unwilling to commit too much to attack. The best challenge for the holders came in the 16th minute when Angela Hucles' corner kick nearly soared directly into the Brazilian net. The bending left-footed attempt could only splatter against the top of Barbara's crossbar.
As the half wore on, the Brazilians began to uncoil their springs slightly and push Marta and Cristiane into the US's defensive third. On 31 minutes, Lori Chalupny gave the ball away in midfield and Formiga took advantage, stringing a fine through ball to the onrushing Cristiane. But the striker, top scorer at these women's finals, was unable to settle the ball with her first touch and Hope Solo came out to grab hold.
Marta and Cristiane finished the opening period terrorising a supremely organised US defence, but the whistle went before the dynamic duo could do any statistical damage.
Brazil were searching for the crucial goal at the start of the second half, but the American rearguard were standing up to everything thrown at them. On 72 minutes, the dazzling Marta seemed to have found a way through, but after jinking and slinking her way into the penalty area, Solo made an outstanding reflex save at the near post to keep the scores level. It proved to be the turning-point.
Both sides were visibly tiring in the last ten minutes of regular time. In the 85th minute, the US, on the back foot for so long, nearly grabbed a winner, but Barbara was equal to Hucles' low drive from 18 yards. Then, with just seconds to go, substitute Amy Rodriguez was denied by the Brazilian keeper when it looked an odds-on a goal.
The North Americans' superior strength and fitness began to really show in the extra-time period. And only six minutes into the first half of it, they laid claim to that elusive, and precious, goal. Rodriguez knocked the ball off for Carli Lloyd at the edge of the penalty area and the midfielder skipped past two defenders before rifling a low left-footed shot past Barbara.
The USA's gold medal is their third in four Olympic finals and their second on the trot. For Brazil, who lit up the tournament with their flair and creativity, it's another case of so near, yet so far.