Americans' Olympic inspiration
© Foto-net

Having arrived in New Zealand hot favourites to become the tournament's maiden champions, USA woke up this morning to the realisation that they face a struggle merely to survive its group stage.

Twice conceding the lead to lose 3-2 to a thrilling Japan side was bad enough for Kazbek Tambi's side; watching France dismantle Paraguay 6-2 in Group C's second game only made their position all the more precarious. The results have certainly combined to leave the victorious Nadeshiko and Bleuettes youngsters well placed to advance from the section, with American hopes now resting on successfully disposing of Paraguay to set up a potential win-or-bust clash against the French next Wednesday.

As Tambi was quick to point out, however, it's worth remembering that USA's women Olympians started their Beijing 2008 campaign with defeat - losing 2-0 to Norway - only to use the lessons learned as the foundation for a memorable and triumphant campaign. As Tambi said: "We have a good role model back home in our women's Olympic team. They had a setback in the first game of the Olympics and came back and won a gold, so our aim is to follow their footsteps.

"I definitely think we can do a lot better. In the second half, I thought things started getting better for us, but when we took their second goal, it kind of swung against us again. But the kids are young, it's a great learning experience and we hope to take this experience, the good and bad, and move on to game two and have a very strong performance."

A useful learning experience it may well prove to be, but defeat is also an entirely new sensation for a team whose record in international matches leading up to this tournament was unmatched by any of their fellow contenders. Eight wins, no draws, no defeats, with 43 goals scored and four conceded, had certainly left the US ill-prepared for such a humbling World Cup baptism, although star striker Courtney Verloo insists the team will bounce back.

You're always better learning at this stage of a tournament where you're going wrong so you can put it right. We're strong enough to cope with this setback and come back stronger from it.
Courtney Verloo takes an optimistic view.

"We're not used to losing but we'll learn from this," she told FIFA.com. "

"I think we can definitely still win this tournament. The team is still optimistic and everyone is ready to pull through the next two games and make sure we're in the quarter-finals."

Verloo's belief in herself and her team-mates is commendable, yet her coach admits that many aspects of USA's performance will need major improvement if they are to successfully salvage their New Zealand 2008 campaign in the two remaining group games.

"We need to take better care of the ball," Tambia conceded. "Secondly, from a defensive viewpoint, we gave the Japanese too much space to work with, especially when they got into our half of the field, so that's another issue we need to square away. Again, it was game one for a young crew in a World Cup and I think they've gotten the butterflies and the nervousness out of the system. Hopefully we can now move on and do a lot better in games two and three."