But the Japanese ended up on the losing side at the London Games on Thursday, just a year after taking the World Cup title.
Japan played well and showed some of the same poise it had in the World Cup final against the Americans in 2011.
But it squandered too many scoring chances at Wembley in its 2-1 loss to the now three-time defending Olympic champions.
Japan twice hit the crossbar and missed on several opportunities from close range. And in one of its last chances of the match, U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo made a brilliant save off a shot by Mana Iwabuchi in the 83rd minute.
"The players all played very well in this final," Japan coach Norio Sasaki said through a translator. "We had the goal chances to win the medal and become Olympic champions, but the result was not what we expected."
Some of the Japanese dropped to the ground after the final whistle, and many had tears streaking down their faces as they left the field. Sasaki huddled the players near midfield and they went around bowing to the large Japanese crowd at Wembley.
The team got a standing ovation from the 80,203 fans, a record for the largest crowd ever to watch a football game at the Olympics.
"I try to see things objectively," Sasaki said. "Even though we got defeated and couldn't win the Olympics, we played very well and the players have nothing to be ashamed of. The players should be proud to have won a silver medal, they should have a feeling of accomplishment right now. I'm very proud of them."
Substitute striker Iwabuchi squandered one of best opportunities after she entered the area unmarked after a mistake by an American defender. She fired a firm right-footed shot toward the far corner, but Solo stretched to just barely push the ball away.
The U.S. had already opened a 2-0 lead with goals by playmaker Carli Lloyd in the eighth and 54th minutes.
"I felt we could come back," Ogimi said. "But unfortunately we could not get the result in the end. We could not get the gold medal, but a silver medal is very valuable."
It was the first time Japan entered a tournament as one of the main title favorites following its World Cup triumph over the U.S. in Germany last year.
Japan was playing in its first Olympic final hoping to show its World Cup win a year ago was not a fluke, and a victory would have made it the first team to win World Cup and Olympic titles in back-to-back years.
After the U.S. scored the first goal, Japan pressed for the equalizer using long balls and taking advantage of the speed of its forwards.
It had three great chances to draw level in the first half alone.
Ogimi failed to find the net from close range after a scramble inside the area in the 17th, then a minute later her header was just barely tipped by Solo onto the crossbar. The woodwork saved the Americans again in the 33rd on a shot by Japan captain Aya Miyama.
Striker Shinobu Ohno came close with her curling shot in the 37th just drifting wide.
The Japanese wanted a penalty after an apparent hand ball by U.S. forward Tobin Heath inside the area after a free kick in the 26th but the referee let the play continue.
Japan came back attacking again in the second half but instead it was Lloyd who got her second goal.
Ogimi finally found the net less than 10 minutes after Lloyd's goal, but Japan was not able to get the second despite more good chances.
Miyama sent a powerful long-range shot over the crossbar in the 66th and Nahomi Kawasumi had her shot from inside the box cleared just in front of the goal by defender Kelley O'Hara in the 74th, with Solo beaten.
Iwabuchi's miss in the 83rd was the last significant chance the Japanese team had.
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