BEIJING (AP) -- Outplayed and overwhelmed for most of the night, the Americans got the only shot they needed.
Olympic champions, once again.
Carli Lloyd scored in the sixth minute of extra time Thursday night, Hope Solo bailed out her teammates time and again, and the United States beat Brazil 1-0 to win the gold medal in women's soccer for a third time in four Olympics. As the final whistle sounded, the Americans charged across the field, hugging anyone in sight. Someone handed out flags, and several players took off, running.
"The team is definitely on a high right now, believing we were going to make a statement in the whole tournament," captain Christie Rampone said. "It didn't start like we wanted to, but we just kept digging and getting better each game. It was a full team effort, and it was so special with everyone doing it together."
The victory was a bit of redemption for the Americans, who went to the World Cup as favorites last fall only to be humbled 4-0 in the semifinals by Brazil. And for no one was it sweeter than Solo, who was banished from the World Cup bronze medal game after criticizing then-coach Greg Ryan for not playing her against Brazil even though she'd allowed only two goals in four World Cup starts, and had a shutout streak of nearly 300 minutes going.
Several minutes after the game ended, Solo sprinted back out onto the field, a gaudy imitation gold medal around her neck, a phone to her ear and a bright smile on her face. She closed her eyes when the American anthem began playing, and bounced proudly and gripped her medal when the team posed for pictures afterward. A few fans in the crowd chanted, "We want Hope! We want Hope!"
The victory was the first in a major tournament for coach Pia Sundhage and gave the Americans their third gold medal since women's soccer was added in 1996. The United States' only loss was in the 2000 final to Norway.
"When I was 6 years old, I thought I was the only girl in the whole world who played soccer. I wasn't allowed to play because I was a girl," Sundhage said. "Back then, I could never imagine to be a professional player or a professional coach. Now I'm sitting with a great player, Christie Rampone, and looking at her gold medal. I am so proud."
For the Brazilians, it was bitter disappointment. This is the third time in a row they've been the runner-up at a top event. They outplayed the Americans in the 2004 final, too, and lost in extra time. They also fell to Germany in the World Cup final last year. After the game, goalkeeper Barbara lay on her back, sobbing, while Cristiane sat on the ground crying.
"I have no idea why we can't win a final," said Marta, who sobbed when she got her silver medal, her lip quivering. "It's something I'm gonna keep asking myself for a long time. You keep asking what you did wrong."
The two-time FIFA Player of the Year has nothing to regret. Her speed and control mesmerized the American defenders, and her cat-like quickness allowed her to get to balls no other player would have come close to. She was credited with six shots on goal, but she seemed to be in Solo's personal space more often than a pickpocket.
"I'm more mad than sad," Marta said. "Again we had a chance to win the gold and again we let it slip away. It's hard to say why that keeps happening to us."
The top-ranked team in the world, the Americans weren't at full strength in Beijing. Top defender Cat Whitehill tore up her left knee in June, leading scorer Abby Wambach broke her leg last month in the final tuneup for Beijing and they lost their opener, giving up two goals in the first few minutes to Norway. They've been slow to find their groove ever since.
It certainly took them awhile Thursday, looking sluggish and outclassed for much of the game. The field certainly didn't help. Already pockmarked and patchy from the Argentina-Brazil matchup in the men's semifinal, light rain before the game made it even more of a mess. Big chunks of turf came up on every run.
But just as the Americans have all Olympics, they came through when it counted.
Solo kept them in the game for the first 85 minutes, making at least a half-dozen big saves. The most impressive came in the 72nd minute, when Marta lost the ball behind Heather Mitts and Kate Markgraf and then picked it back up for a close-range shot that looked certain to be in. But Solo leaned out, threw up her right arm and sent the ball flying out of harm's way.
"I don't understand why the ball wouldn't go in," Marta said. "In so many games before we were able to score easily, but today it wasn't the case."
The rest of the Americans picked up the slack in the last five minutes of regulation, nearly scoring three times -- twice in the 86th minute alone.
Then, in extra time, Amy Rodriguez held off two Brazilians and put the ball up for Lloyd who gave it a light touch with her right foot and then left-footed it from a yard outside the area. Barbara dived, but the ball scooted past her and settled in the far bottom corner of the net.
"We felt like we were getting better each minute," Rampone said. "We said, 'Don't worry about making mistakes, just go out there and play with confidence and be brave.' You could feel it every minute of that second half and in overtime. We felt strong."
Marta did everything she could to draw the Brazilians even. In the 102nd minute, she was tackled by Mitts and then, after getting the ball back, was blocked first by Markgraf and then by Christie Rampone.
In the final minutes of the second extra period, she tried to bend in a corner a few minutes later only to watch Solo punch it free. Renata Costa collected the rebound, but her shot banged into the side of the net, drawing groans from the star-studded crowd of 51,612 -- Kobe Bryant, Pele, FIFA president Sepp Blatter and International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge were all in the house -- that clearly favored Brazil.
Shortly after, Marta looped in a free kick, but none of her teammates went for it, and the ball bounced over the scrum and wide of the far post. And with seconds left, Cristiane's header went just wide. Brazil's drought at major tournaments was extended once again.
Earlier, world champion Germany defeated Japan 2-0 in the bronze medal game.