Tambi plays down favourites tag

The USA's superb record in women's football is hardly a secret. They are the current Olympic champions, they have won the FIFA Women's World Cup twice, and their junior teams have also excelled in recent times; the US have never finished outside the final four of the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup, and took home the inaugural title in 2002.

With all that in mind, it is not surprising that many have already installed the USA Women's U-17 team as favourites for the first-ever FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup, to be held in New Zealand in October and November. Yet coach Kaz Tambi, who has acquired a wealth of experience in women's football over the years, is taking nothing for granted.

It's hard to say that we're the favourites here, because there's no real history in this age group
USA coach Kaz Tambi on the upcoming FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup

"USA coach Kaz Tambi on the upcoming FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup">It's hard to say that we're the favourites here, because there's no real history in this age group," said Tambi in a recent exclusive interview with FIFA.com. "It's a very open affair. Some of the traditional countries like Germany have done very well in the European competition. And I'm sure there will be some surprises out there as well."

The USA are drawn with Japan, France and Paraguay in Group C of the competition, and Tambi admits that his team's opponents will be largely an unknown quantity. "We haven't played any of the other three teams in the group before. But we believe that the teams will generally replicate their senior teams, in terms of style."

Olympic spur
All youngsters need role models, and there could have been no better spur for Tambi's talented bunch of youngsters than the USA's success in Beijing, achieved despite the absence of star striker Abby Wambach. "We watched the Olympic final as a group when we were in training, it was very exciting for the girls," enthused Tambi. "We were also fortunate enough to see them play here [in New Jersey, where the U-17 team is based] right after the tournament, against Ireland. And Heather O'Reilly came out to the training camp to talk to the players. That was a real thrill for them."

We're setting very high goals. They've really accepted that challenge, and they enjoy being challenged in that way...to set a new standard for the U-17 age group
Tambi on his U-17 team

Mindful of the footballing future of his young hopefuls, the coach earnestly hopes that the new professional women's league in the United States will get off to a successful start. "It's very important for us that the new professional league is successful, and gets firmly established here. Without that, if you're a promising young player in the USA, there's almost nowhere to go after college soccer. Now there will be something to look forward to in the future; they'll have numerous role models, even beyond the national team."

Tambi spent three years as coach of the New Jersey Stallions in the USA's W-League, and despite the difference in age, he believes that his current U-17 charges are capable of a surprising level of tactical organisation. "Surprisingly, the girls are very sophisticated, and there's not a big difference between the way I teach these girls [and senior teams]. We're hoping that these girls play at a similar level tactically. We're setting very high goals. They've really accepted that challenge, and they enjoy being challenged in that way...to set a new standard for the U-17 age group."

And does Tambi, a qualified lawyer practising in New Jersey, find the demands of a career in football oppressive, on top of his legal duties? "At times, there's not a whole lot of free time, especially when I've got the [Seton Hall] college team as well," he admits. "But I wouldn't trade it for anything. I love working in soccer. While some weeks tend to be very tiring, they are very satisfying."