The hard work that has gone in to making women's football the success story it is today is commendable. In many respects, USA's female players have summed up this spectacular progress, and as such it was fitting that they should round off an especially productive season at all levels by collecting the Presidential Award on behalf of the women's game at the FIFA World Player Gala 2008.
Joseph S. Blatter, speaking during the Gala, paid tributes to the strides that have been made. "We are delighted with the progress which has been made so far in the women's game," he said. "Whether in terms of technique, physical fitness or tactics, women's football is experiencing continuous development around the world. We are also thrilled by the growing popularity of the sport. Today, some 26 million girls and women play the beautiful game in all of FIFA's 208 member associations and the sport is continuously attracting more and more young female athletes."
The honour of collecting the award on behalf of women's football from the FIFA President fell to Heather O'Reilly. The 24-year-old striker has enjoyed a glittering career to date, picking up a bronze medal at the FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007, two golds at the Athens and Beijing Olympic Games, and a winners' medal at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup Canada 2002.
Heather travelled to the Gala on behalf of the dozens of players who have represented the Stars and Stripes with such distinction in 2008. Leading the way were the senior team, who defended their Athens 2004 title by striking gold again at the Women's Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008.
The country's youth teams then moved into the spotlight, with the U-17s claiming second place behind Korea DPR at the inaugural FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup, held in New Zealand. A month later the Americans were back on top of the world, gaining revenge over the Koreans in the final of the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup Chile 2008.
Thanks to many years of tireless work, the women's game is booming stateside. The Americans are not resting on their laurels, however, and are set to embark on another exciting challenge with the launch of Women's Professional Soccer, a new seven-team league, in April this year.
When Joseph S. Blatter commented that the future of football was female back in 1995, USA took the message on board and gave its complete backing to the women's game. The rewards of that policy are there for all to see and the US team were certainly the natural candidates to pick up a Presidential Award that honours the entire women's game.