United States take Olympic opener 2-0 over New Zealand

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It wasn’t a masterpiece, but it’ll do.

The United States Women’s National Team opened up its Group G competition in the 2016 Rio Games with a workmanlike 2-0 victory over New Zealand in Belo Horizonte. The Americans scored early in each half to put away the Football Ferns. The goal scorers for the United States were familiar to everyone: Carli Lloyd in the first half and Alex Morgan less than a minute into the second half.

In between and after the scoring, there were periods of sterling possession by the United States, physical play by the New Zealand team — and non-stopping heckling of Hope Solo by the Brazlians in the crowd, who didn’t take too kindly to her social media posts on her personal Zika protection.

The win gives the United States an important three points going into Saturday’s match with number-three ranked France. France met Colombia following the United States match.

The United States came out flying and nearly scored in the first three minutes. Only a double save by Erin Nayler, former Sky Blue player, on shots from close range from Julie Johnston and Morgan kept its scoreless early.

But Lloyd put the Americans ahead soon after with a goal. Tobin Heath picked up a rebound off her own free kick on the left side and double pumped three New Zealand defenders, freezing her markers. She cut once and sent a perfect ball across the goal to Lloyd. She headed the ball falling away into the far post. The goal was her 10th of 2016 and 89th international goal.

The rest of the half saw the New Zealand side play a little physical and pick up three yellow cards — including two on defenders — going into their second group game. Mallory Pugh, making her Olympic debut, got hurt in the first half and stayed. Six minutes into the second half, she made way for Crystal Dunn.

Morgan doubled the lead in the opening seconds of the second half. Allie Long, also making her Olympic debut, sent in a ball to Morgan Brian, who performed a quick one-two with Heath and found Morgan on the left side of the goal. Morgan blasted a shot low, beating Nayler to the near post. It was her 12th goal of the year and 68th international goal.

The Americans basically iced the game at this point and got stronger as the game went on. Christen Press and Lindsey Horan came on during the latter stages of the half for their Olympic debuts. The possession game kicked in for good in the last half-hour of the match with New Zealand not coming close to the net.

Heath was clearly the strongest player on the field, running both flanks at times and serving pinpoint crosses that were just a bit off to end in goals but were dangerous nonetheless.

Solo, who registered her 101st shutout, was the target of the Brazilian fans who chanted “Zika, Zika” every time the American goalkeeper touched the ball. She had posted social media tweets of herself wearing mosquito nets as headgear recently, drawing the ire of the Brazilians. Brazil is one of the countries that had a high number of Zika cases, prompting some Olympic athletes, primarily golfers, to stay home.

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