USA won their third consecutive gold medal at London 2012 – their fourth out of a possible five at Women’s Olympic Football Tournaments – to cement their status as the undisputed queens of Olympic football.
Coach Pia Sundhage retained the core of the squad that took gold in Beijing four years ago, but also added new faces from the group that performed so well at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™. Among them was Alex Morgan, long used as an impact substitute but now an integral part of the USA front line. The Stars and Stripes showed an ability to dig deep and salvage results from difficult games, particularly in their group opener against France and their semi-final with Canada.
USA’s gold-winning campaign ended with the sweet taste of revenge and victory over Japan, their conquerors in the final of Germany 2011. The Japanese, for their part, grew in stature as the tournament progressed, and saved one of their best performances for the gold medal match. An Olympic record 80,203 spectators were at Wembley for the grand finale of the women’s competition, and they were treated to a thrilling spectacle.
Homare Sawa and Co were not as dazzling at London 2012 as they were at Germany 2011, but their incisive counter-attacks and the predatory finishing of forward Yuki Ogimi were enough to see them progress to the final. Despite the disappointing end to their campaign, Japan appeared more than satisfied with the silver medal, which represents their best finish at an Olympic Women’s Football Tournament.
Canada were one of the biggest surprise packages at London 2012. A year on from their first-round exit at Germany 2011, where they failed to register a single point and scored just one goal, John Herdman’s rejuvenated side reached the semi-finals and took USA all the way to the wire before falling just short. They then clinched the bronze medal to cap a year of remarkable progress.
The Canadians took the final podium spot from France, who, for the second year running, missed out on the consolation of third place. For all their technical quality, Les Bleues were too often unable to find an end product when it really mattered. This was particularly true in both their semi-final and bronze medal match, where they enjoyed plenty of possession only to be picked apart on the break.
Great Britain, meanwhile, delighted their home supporters by defeating Brazil on their way to topping their group. Steph Houghton and Scottish star Kim Little were the stand-out performers in a largely English squad, whose challenge ultimately fizzled out in the quarter-finals.
For Brazil, London 2012 proved something of a step backwards compared with their past Olympic exploits. After winning two consecutive medals, and despite having Beijing 2008 coach Jorge Barcellos at the helm once more, the Auriverde fell at the quarter-final stage this time around.
It was a similar tale for Sweden, who were unable to kick on from their third-place finish at Germany 2011, and Korea DPR, who also performed below expectations. The Koreans have been a real force in the lower age categories over the past few years, but the senior side’s two most recent appearances at the highest level have both ended in disappointing first-round exits.
New Zealand, on the other hand, gave further proof of the constant development of women’s football in the country. Tony Readings’ side managed a historic achievement at London 2012 by reaching the second round of a FIFA competition for the very first time.
African representatives South Africa and Cameroon, and South American participants Colombia, showed they still have room for improvement if they are to be competitive at international level. The trio did, however, display encouraging signs that progress is being made in their respective countries, where women’s football is not as popular as in other parts of the world.
Fair Play award: USA
Stadiums and venues
Wembley (London), Old Trafford (Manchester), Hampden Park (Glasgow), Millennium Stadium (Cardiff), City of Coventry Stadium (Coventry), St. James’s Park (Newcastle).
Total goals: 71 (average 2.73 per match)
Total spectators: 660,986
Average attendance: 25,423