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Carli Lloyd, Hope Solo lead USWNT to 1-0 Olympic victory over France

The US seized control of Group H with a narrow win over a French side they may meet again in the final

Despite being outplayed throughout the first half, the United States managed to see off France thanks to Carli Lloyd’s 63rd minute goal today in Belo Horizonte. The USWNT managed the game’s only goal after some fine work from Tobin Heath, whose shot crashed off the post, teeing up Lloyd for the finish from three yards out. France pushed for an equalizer, winning numerous headers in dangerous spots, but Hope Solo managed to preserve a second straight Olympic shutout.

Jill Ellis made two changes to the side that cruised to a 2-0 win over New Zealand in the Group H opener. Washington Spirit forward Crystal Dunn came in on the right wing, replacing the possibly injured Mallory Pugh, while center back Julie Johnston was rested (in part to prevent a minor knock from becoming a real problem). Boston Breakers defender Whitney Engen stepped in alongside Becky Sauerbrunn.

After a disjointed opening, France very nearly took an early lead. A foul along the left - one Meghan Klingenberg disputed - was whipped in to the box by Louisa Necib. Wendie Renard soared over Allie Long to head towards goal, forcing Hope Solo to glance the ball onto the crossbar and behind for a corner kick. From the ensuing corner, Renard again escaped Long, but despite causing some very nervous moments inside the USWNT’s area, France could not prod the ball towards goal.

The Americans were struggling with turnovers against the organized French, though a 24th minute move involving Crystal Dunn and Tobin Heath - who had swung all the way over from the left to join in - briefly caused trouble. Heath’s willingness to draw a crowd in the 29th minute allowed Carli Lloyd to get open, with the US captain drawing a foul inside the restraining arc. Both Lloyd and Heath stood over the ball, with Heath eventually firing over the wall and on frame. Despite a glaringly obvious touch from goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi to help the ball over the bar, a goal kick was given.

The US was growing into the game, mostly via Heath, who drew another foul in the 34th minute. However, the next chance fell to France. Amandine Henry picked off a loose touch from Heath at midfield before surging into space. France worked the ball to Camille Abily, who was able to slide a pass to Marie-Laure Delie. Delie shrugged Klingenberg’s challenge aside to give herself a great look at goal, but her attempt to nutmeg Solo was - just barely - saved by the US netminder, who managed to use her shins to "grab" the ball before it got fully past her.

A good build-up from the USWNT in the 47th minute put Alex Morgan into a decent position, but Renard alertly slid in to concede a corner kick that the US could not do much with. However, the second half’s beginning was mostly defined by a slow tempo, as the US kept more of the possession while France seemed comfortable with restricting them to passes among the back four and defensive midfielders.

Eventually the defense managed to create a brief chance. Engen’s 56th minute pass broke through two lines to find Lloyd. Lloyd, sensing the moment, looked up for Morgan, only to find the star striker had made her run too early. Lloyd circulated the ball back to Heath, who smartly found Morgan Brian’s run from deep. Brian caught the French defense flat-footed, but Bouhaddi was very alert, coming 25 yards off her line to thump the ball clear just before Brian could take a touch.

Engen repeated that pass a few minutes later, this time finding Dunn cutting inside. Dunn quickly slipped Morgan into the box, forcing Bouhaddi off her line again. Bouhaddi got both hands to the ball but only blocked it against Morgan’s shin, but unfortunately for the USWNT Morgan, from a very acute angle, could not turn the ball on goal.

Finally, after looking like they were inching their way into the game, the US took the lead in the 63rd minute. A half-cleared free kick was kept alive, and Brian managed to find Heath in space on the left side of the box. Heath took a touch before firing on goal, but the ball smacked off the near post. Fortunately for the USWNT, it fell right into the goalmouth, where Lloyd was able to pounce just ahead of two defenders to finish the chance.

Dunn picked up a 67th minute yellow card after exposing her studs while trying to block a French clearance as the US, perhaps sensing a chance to kill the game, pressed higher up the field. Dunn came off a few minutes later, replaced by her club teammate Ali Krieger, who made her Olympic debut. Kelley O’Hara moved up to Dunn’s spot on the right wing, with Krieger playing her traditional right back role.

A 75th minute French corner forced the US to block a shot before they could clear as France began pushing for an equalizer. France had a better look two minutes later, with Jessica Houara’s high cross falling into a dangerous spot for Delie, who escaped Engen. Solo went low to her right to stop the header, and then smothered the rebound.

Another French cross from the right wing, this time from Elodie Thomis, nearly forced Krieger into a 79th minute own goal. Krieger managed to get to the service just ahead of Delie, but her attempt to concede a corner kick rocketed just inches wide of the far post. Morgan responded with a snapshot from 23 yards in the 81st minute as the game finally started to get stretched. Monents later, Lindsey Horan stepped in for Lloyd as Ellis moved to further clog the center of midfield.

France’s ability to get free on set pieces continued to cause problems for the USWNT, as Renard’s flick forced Solo to dive out and claim ahead of the lurking Delie in the 83rd minute. Solo was also able to just barely enough on an 89th minute corner despite having to come out and punch in a crowd of players from both sides.

Ellis made a curious late sub, bringing Christen Press in for Klingenberg in the 90th minute. Long dropped in as an extra center back, with O’Hara taking up her third position of the match at left back. Press ended up as a right winger in a 541, but it was Morgan who nearly managed to set up a second goal. Bouhaddi - known for some eccentric decision-making throughout her career, tried to shield the ball out out in the corner, only for the Orlando Pride captain to poke the ball loose. Morgan tried to fire a cross in front of the completely unguarded net, but the French managed to get just enough of the ball to prevent what would have been a tap-in.

From there, a couple of late clearances were all the US needed to finish off a crucial 1-0 win over another potential gold medal winner. The USWNT moved alone atop Group H with the victory, three points ahead of France. A draw between Colombia and New Zealand, playing later tonight, would guarantee their place in the knockout round. The Americans will finish up their group stage matches this coming Tuesday against Colombia, while France will need to avoid defeat against New Zealand to advance.