The biggest game ever in women’s football

Taking a break from our Olympic Adventures, The Daggers Diary head to Wembley for the most watch Women’s football match ever – The Olympic Final.

After all of the worries about tickets, security and what-not that accompanies the build up to a major sporting event like the Olympic Games, those events that I have been fortunate enough to attend seem to have gone quite well. Of course, we’ve had the moans about tickets, but for some that were able to mobilize their efforts early, they don’t seem to have done too badly, although obviously many still missed out. And even some of those that didn’t have stuff in advance have (with a huge amount of luck and persevering with the website) managed to get lucky. It’s just a shame that too many seem to have woken up too late to the fact that the Olympics were going to be an event not to miss. Having spoken to loads of people since the start of the games on July 27th, those that haven’t been to an event have said that they had wished that they had bothered to apply for tickets. Those that have been fortunate enough to get a ticket for an event in the Olympic park have all said that the atmosphere has been wonderful, and that they wished they had done something earlier. We can only hope that the Paralympic Games benefit as they deserve to. So far, it seems that they might, with record ticket sales already reported.

For me, the Handball has been brilliant to attend, and the noise inside the copper box, especially when team GB were being battered by Sweden was great. Despite the run away score, the support never wavered, which has been a feature of wherever and whenever a GB team or athlete has taken to their particular field of play. It’s arguable that Handball has been the discovery of the Games for the British public, with reports that the British federation website crashed several times over the last week with the amount of people trying to find out where their local team is and how to go about playing the game. As a new fan myself (since last December), I hope it takes off here.

My Olympic journey finishes tonight, here at Wembley, and the women’s gold medal match between Japan and the U.S.A. It’s arguable that in the women’s game, this is second only to the World Cup, and we have a repeat of last year’s final here tonight. Last Tuesday, Dagenham Dan and I were amongst over 70,000 to watch team GB beat Brazil 1-0, and hopes were high following that of a semi final spot. Defeat at Coventry to Canada last Friday put paid to that.

That win over Brazil though opened a few people up to the women’s game. It was a record crowd for a women’s match in the UK that night, and tonight should beat that.

Thursday 9th August 2012, USA v Japan, Wembley Stadium

The pre-match “entertainment” starts an hour before kick off, and seems to consist of the traditional ear splittingly loud music that Wembley specializes in, as well as two pitch side presenters who are clearly trying to shout as loud as the music. The volume control button obviously doesn’t on the music or microphones.

The other ways employed to keep the crowd amused is to either lob large inflatable versions of the tournament match ball into the crowd, or to get people to impersonate Usain Bolt. There are varying degrees of success, but it’s soon dropped.

Of course, if having your ear drums destroyed isn’t your thing, then you can always bring your own picnic, so as to combat the high food prices inside the stadium. A big thumbs up then to the family in front of us who bought everything with them, including their own paper plates.

The US team have some players whose goal scoring record defies belief, and in particular, Abby Wambach, who has netted over 140 times for the national team. Japan can boast the FIFA world player of 2011, Honore Sana, won in part for her role in the world cup triumph of twelve months ago.

After the teams emerge and the anthems are played, a sizeable crowd settles down to watch the first football final of the 2012 Olympic Games. There is an early chance for Alex Morgan of the USA , but while some finals can be cagey and dull, this is anything but. Eight minutes into the game and we already have the first goal. A cross from the US left only reaches Morgan on the near side of the six yard box. She is allowed to turn though, and chips a cross to the back post. The goal keeper is now out of the game, and although Abby Wambach is ready to swing her foot at the ball, Carli Lloyd is first to the cross with a header, and it nestles nicely in the net. Half the stadium erupts in celebration, and the Japanese players look a bit surprised. We just hope that this means that the game will open up, and not revert to type.

Thankfully it doesn’t, and the half develops into a really entertaining encounter, with both teams going in search of goals. There are chances at both ends, with Ogimi denied on more than one occasion by the sprawling Hope Solo in the American goal. There are times though when she is beaten, such as just before the interval, when Ohno curls a beautiful shot just past the goalkeepers left hand post.

Kumagai probably goes closest for the Americans, although the Japanese defender is mightily relived to see her (admittedly beautifully flicked header) rebound off the Japanese right hand post. If the Japanese goal leads a charmed life in that instant, then at the other end, the crossbar comes to the rescue of Solo, when Ogimi hits the woodwork.

From our vantage point in the upper tier, there is a distinct difference in styles at least in the early part of the game. Japan are content to pass the ball around and play their way through the gaps, while the U.S. have a slightly more direct, aggressive style of play. The aggressiveness doesn’t last long, and the half flies past, and at the interval, an enjoyable encounter is somehow still only 1-0 to the Americans.

Half time brings back the volume deficient microphones, the inflatable balls, and more of those annoying waves. However, I am obviously in the minority, as most of the crowd eagerly participate. As some disappear to sample the Wembley cuisine, the substitutes emerge to do their warming up and to watch the crowd entertaining themselves.

The second half is just under ten minutes old when Carli Lloyd is on the scoresheet again. If the first was from almost on the goal line, then the second is struck from slightly further out. About twenty yards further out in fact. She hits a right footed shot into the corner of the net that anyone would have been proud to have scored. As she advances to moment of shooting, one American fan behind us urges her to “take it to the house”. When the ball ripples round the net, he embraces his next door neighbour in total happiness. If that was taking it to the house, then she not only took it, but gave it the comfy chair, a cup of tea and slice of cake as well.

The two goal advantage lasts past the hour mark, when we have the first two changes, one for each side. The world champions are working hard to get back into the game, when after sixty three minutes, they finally get their reward. It’s at the third time of asking, but eventually Ogimi registers her third goal of the competition, and now we have a game on our hands.

Japan push for an equalizer, but another chance is cleared off the line, and soon after the crowd is announced as 80,203. Having set a record just nine days earlier at the GB v Brazil game for the biggest crowd ever to watch a women’s football match, there is a new record. This time, it’s not only a British record, but also the biggest ever crowd for a women’s Olympic football match.

There are chances still for an addition to the score, but the game somehow ends only 2-1. it has though, been a thoroughly entertaining encounter. Talking through the last few minutes of the game with the captain of Camden Town, Carmel Clinton, the point is made (and not for the first time during the game) that there is none of the rolling around that accompanies a foul in the mens game, Once the foul has been committed, the players retreat back into position to defend, and the game continues. There is only one caution in the game, and that comes right at the end for Abby Wambach. At the final whistle the American players celebrate their win, while the Japanese players lie on the ground. However, having suffered because of waiting at Wembley too long after the final whistle, both Dan and myself are on our way within sixty seconds of the end of the game. Our decision is justified, as the walk to the station isn’t too bad, and we are on a train within ten minutes. Leave any later, and it’s a long wait to see the inside of Wembley Park.

It’s been a while since I enjoyed a game at Wembley, and I’ve been fortunate to see three in just over a week, but perhaps given the occasion, this was the best of the three. While the women’s game will still have its detractors, the professional women’s league is showing signs of flourishing, and football is still the fastest growing sports amongst girls. The standard is very good at the highest level, and the chance to play on this kind of stage can only encourage further development of the sport.

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