The fans in Belo Horizonte who taunted Hope Solo during this game could only admire the US goalkeeper by the end as she made several fine saves to ensure the Americans won their second match of the tournament.
After coasting to a 2-0 win over New Zealand in their opening fixture on Wednesday, this was a tougher challenge for last year’s World Cup winners as they seek a fourth successive Olympic gold. France had the bulk of the chances - but, as usual, the Americans found a way to win.
Billed as potentially one of the best matches of the tournament, the competition will have underwhelmed if that proves to be the case.
Though competitive, close and exciting in patches, there was a degree of reserve, of holding back, that percolated through the sides’ performances. That is not surprising given that both nations entered the night knowing they were already all but through to the quarter-finals - eight of the 12 teams progress from the group stage - and the concertinaed format and small roster size means the conservation of energy and the avoidance of injury are vital.
The pre-match anticipation was heightened because France entered Saturday’s match top of the group after beating Colombia 4-0 in their opening game, and they are ranked third in the world by Fifa.
Yet despite their individual talent - headlined by midfielder Amandine Henry, who plays her club football for the National Women’s Soccer League’s Portland Thorns - their best tournament outcomes have been fourth place at the 2011 World Cup and fourth at the London 2012 Olympics. Even at the European Championships they have not gone beyond the quarter-finals.
The speedy 18-year-old attacking midfielder Mallory Pugh, who came off in the second half against New Zealand with an ankle injury, was on the bench for the US. Crystal Dunn came in while Whitney Engen replaced the injured Julie Johnston in defense, resulting in a back line that had not started together this year. At times, it showed.
Jill Ellis’ side were indebted to Solo on her 200th cap - an international goalkeeping record - especially with 41 minutes gone when she made a sharp low stop from Marie-Laure Delie, who was clear on the right seven yards out.
As against New Zealand in the same venue, Solo was booed in Belo Horizonte and subjected to chants of “Zika!” following a tweet that pictured her in a mosquito head net and holding a jumbo-sized bottle of insect repellent.
Earlier, Solo got a faint and perhaps vital touch as Wendie Renard, the France captain, hit the bar with a header. At the other end, the Americans were missing Pugh’s energy and sense of adventure. With Renard commanding at the back, the best it got for the US in the first period was a Tobin Heath free kick saved by Sarah Bouhaddi.
The US were far better after the break, though, and grabbed the winner after 63 minutes thanks to some derelict defending from the French. Heath was inexplicably free on the left as she ran into the box, collected a pass and unfurled a low shot that Bouhaddi could only touch on to her near post.
The rebound fell to Carli Lloyd - a player who should not be left unmarked at the halfway line, let alone inside the six-yard box - who had an easy finish for her second goal of the tournament.
Lofting some dangerous high crosses into the area, France pushed for an equaliser late on and Solo was required to make a simple save from a Delie header inside the last 15 minutes. Then the US substitute, Ali Krieger, almost contributed a dramatic volleyed own goal that would have made for a nightmarish Olympic debut at the age of 32.
The Americans conclude their group play in Manaus on Tuesday against Colombia: a five-hour flight that takes them farther away from Rio. But, geography apart, they look to be on the right path to the Maracaña, where the gold medal match takes place on 19 August.
This article was written by Tom Dart, for theguardian.com on Saturday 6th August 2016 23.17 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010