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Olympics soccer: dynamic duo sparks USA comeback against France

USA spotted France a 2-0 lead in the first 15 minutes before roaring back for a 4-2 win in its Olympic opener. US forwards Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan were dominant.

By Staff writer / July 25, 2012

Alex Morgan of the USA celebrates after scoring a goal against France during their women's Group G football match at the London 2012 Olympic Games at Hampden Park in Glasgow, Scotland, Wednesday.

David Moir/REUTERS

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So, what, exactly, are we to make of the USA's 4-2 win in their opener in the women's Olympic soccer tournament Wednesday. 

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The American women did begin about as well as "Saving Private Ryan," conceding two goals in the first 15 minutes. 

Then again, they won 4-2, and France, who likes to play with a certain amount of artistry, didn't look like it had any idea how to handle the US defense pressure. Given the choice of playing A) a pack of wild dogs, or B) a US team pressing them high up the pitch, giving them no space or time to play Monet, the French might well have chosen A. 

In the end, the entertaining game gave an unvarnished look at what the US team is: A team with awesome offensive firepower and a dodgy defense that could keep every game against top teams close.

Fortunately for the US, the team perhaps most capable of beating them, Germany, is not here because of a quirk in the Olympic qualifying process. Meanwhile, Brazil appears on the downward swing, and France, on this evidence, is not far enough on its upward swing to handle what the US offers.

In last year's World Cup final, Japan held on for a draw (and a win in penalty kicks) thanks only to some shocking American defending. That was in evidence again Wednesday, too.    

In front of their own goal, the US defense too often looked as though it was responding to a fire alarm. Surprisingly, neither of the French goals were created by their undoubted skill. On the first, two American defenders mixed signals, allowing Gaetane Thiney the space and time to launch a thunderous shot into the far corner from 20 yards. Two minutes later, a French corner fell into the American box like a grenade, and forward Marie-Laure Delie was the first to pounce, powering it past US keeper Hope Solo.

But for the French, it was too much, too soon. The Americans still had 75 minutes. They only needed 60 of them.

While the French still looked dangerous on offense, the US rarely allowed them the opportunity. Unrelenting pressure on the French defense and midfield meant that French could never settle into their ball-control game, and in a flurry of turnovers and hurried passes, America ground its way into gear.

Down 2-0, US forward Abby Wambach did what she does best: be almost completely unguardable in the air. With a strong cross arrowing to the far post, she rose above all the defenders and looped a brilliant header over the stranded French goalkeeper and into the far corner of the net.

Then it was Morgan's turn. A one-woman clinic in how to move dangerously without the ball, a lucky bounce found her behind the defense. In one fluid turn, she pinwheeled the ball past the advancing keeper and into the net. After a Carli Lloyd piledriver to make it 3-2 in the second half, Morgan was at it again, showing up at the far post for the Easiest Goal in Olympic History – a two-foot tap-in into an empty net.

In an hour, a national soccer crisis had been turned into a laugher that could have been worse – the referee waived off what appeared to be two clear fouls in the box against Morgan. Indeed, as the game wore on, it appeared as though the French strategy to contain Morgan was to pretend she was a piñata.  

The question of how to guard Wambach and Morgan is one that may, as yet, have no answer. Wambach is the wrecking ball, and Morgan glides through the openings she creates. It is an irresistible combination that promises goals from every conceivable angle – and on Wednesday, delivered. 

An opening game is hardly a coronation – especially one with as many flaws as this one. But at least one thing seems certain: When the US takes the field in these Olympics, entertainment is assured. 

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