[REAL VERSION] London 2012

REAL VERSION

Full coverage on NBC through August 12

Golden Legacy: USA Beats Japan

The U.S. women's soccer team beat Japan 2-1 in the Olympic gold medal match.

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    Abby Wambach of the U.S. celebrates after defeating Japan by a score of 2-1 to win the Women's Soccer gold medal.

    The U.S. women’s soccer team won its third consecutive Olympic gold medal Thursday, beating Japan 2-1 in a frenetic nail-biter before a record crowd of 80,203 at London's Wembley Stadium.

    Midfielder Carli Lloyd scored both of Team USA's goals, avenging the upset loss to Japan in last year's World Cup final.

    The Americans have now won all but one Olympic championship since women's soccer was introduced in 1996.

    Japan, meanwhile, won its first Olympic medal and can no longer count itself an underdog.

    The Americans scored first, in the eighth minute, when Lloyd headed in a cross by Alex Morgan.

    Another U.S. goal followed in the 53rd minute, when Lloyd danced through two Japanese defenders on a breakaway and rocketed the ball from the top of the penalty box into the left corner of the net.

    Lloyd, who had the game-winner in the gold medal match at the Beijing Olympics, lost her starting job just before the London games but won it back when Shannon Boxx was hurt in the tournament's opening game. She started every match after, and finished with four goals.

    The Japanese answered in the 62nd minute, when forward Yuki Ogimi knocked in a rebound that got caught up among the American defenders.

    The Japanese continued to pressure the Americans for the rest of the game, and even dominated possession with their disciplined playing style, but were repeatedly turned away by U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo, who made several stellar saves, including a diving block of a one-on-one shot by Japanese forward Mana Iwabuchi with under 7 minutes left to play.

    While the Americans were playing for vengeance, Japan was trying to prove its World Cup triumph was not a fluke. Back then, the team won while shouldering the burden of a nation recovering from an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown.

    Both teams were undefeated going into the final, but the Americans were considered the favorites from the start of the tournament.

    They nearly escaped elimination Monday, with a controversial last-minute 4-3 win over Canada in the semifinals.

    Canada defeated France in the bronze medal match, 1-0.