GLASGOW, Scotland — The United States clinched its first victory in the London Games on Wednesday, when its women’s soccer team beat France, 4-2, on the first day of Olympic competition.
Ranked No. 1 in the world by FIFA, the Americans overcame a 2-0 deficit and showed the crowd at historic Hampden Park why they are favored to win their third consecutive Olympic gold medal.
Abby Wambach headed in the Americans’ first goal, Carli Lloyd scored the tiebreaker and Alex Morgan had a goal in each half.
The Olympic Games will be ushered in Friday with filmmaker Danny Boyle’s much-anticipated Opening Ceremonies, but the soccer schedule got underway two days early to allow sufficient time between games. Six women’s games were played Wednesday, while eight men’s matches are scheduled for Thursday.
While the Olympics aren’t the crowning competition of men’s soccer, in which all but three players on each team must be younger than 23, the Games are at or near the top in prestige on the women’s side. Many women don’t have top-tier national leagues in their countries — in the United States, Women’s Professional Soccer folded earlier this year — so the Olympics and the World Cup are not just the biggest stage but close to the only ones.
Wednesday’s match was expected to be a challenge for the United States: France had won its past 17 games, and during last summer’s World Cup, the teams were tied late before the Americans pulled out a 3-1 victory. Within 15 minutes Wednesday, the French led 2-0 on goals from Gaetane Thiney and Marie-Laure Delie, and the pre-Olympic concerns about the Americans’ defense appeared legitimate.
“We are the first U.S. team to play [in the Olympics], so there are going to be nerves,” U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo said afterward. While Coach Pia Sundhage and some of the American players said the glare from the sun affected Solo in the first half, she said, “I will never use that as an excuse.”
Wambach’s powerful header in the 19th minute began the comeback. Before halftime, Morgan, the team’s 23-year-old rising star nicknamed “Baby Horse,” chased down a long, bounding pass from Solo and scored the equalizer.
“Going down two goals is never easy to come back from, especially the first game of any world championship,” Wambach said. “But this team, no matter what bumps in the road we approach, we hop over them together.”
Many on Sundhage’s 18-player roster will be familiar to Americans who followed the team’s galvanizing World Cup run last summer, when they lost in the final to Japan. During that tournament, the U.S. team’s gritty persistence stirred the imagination of mainstream America and propelled several players into a newfound limelight. Solo, for instance, appeared on “Dancing with the Stars” last year and recently graced the cover of Vogue magazine linking arms with fellow Olympians Ryan Lochte and Serena Williams.
Despite the rise in popularity in the States, organizers here have struggled to sell tickets for women’s soccer events. Hampden Park has a capacity of 52,000, but just more than 18,000 attended Wednesday’s match, with many of the tickets given away to sports and youth groups.
There was a distinctive Scottish flavor at the match with some fans waving the Scottish flag, and others playing bagpipes. By the end of the game, however, the United States had won over large swaths of the crowd who were chanting a deafening “U-S-A!”
While the bulk of the Games are in London, a handful of other cities are hosting games, including Glasgow in Scotland, Cardiff in Wales, and Coventry, Manchester, Newcastle, and Weymouth and Portland in England.
Because the U.S. women will next be playing in Glasgow on Saturday, they have opted not to attend Friday’s Opening Ceremonies, taking place 400 miles south in London.
“We’re right where we need to be. It’s the day before our second game,” said Solo, who added that the team was talking about clustering around a television in its hotel to watch the ceremony while dressed in Opening Ceremonies outfits. “We’re going to feel the Olympic spirit.”
Other games: Stephanie Houghton scored off a free kick Wednesday to give Britain a 1-0 win over New Zealand. . . . North Korea beat Colombia, 2-0, in a game that was delayed for more than an hour after the North Koreans refused to come onto the field because the South Korean flag was mistakenly displayed on a jumbo screen at Hampden Park. . . . Brazil scored two early goals and got two more from Marta in the second half to defeat Cameroon, 5-0. . . . Lotta Schelin scored twice to help Sweden beat South Africa, 4-1. . . . World champion Japan scored twice in the first half and then held on for a 2-1 win over Canada.
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