USA toasts Braveheart spirit
© Foto-net

Preparing for any big game is invariably something of a psychological balancing act, with the challenge to simultaneously focus, motivate and soothe the nerves of those involved.

Some players immerse themselves in the task in hand; others try everything and anything to distract themselves from it. USA's U-17 women? They spent the night before their heavyweight semi-final battle with Germany watching Mel Gibson's Braveheart. As an entry on the team's blog put it: "If that doesn't get you pumped up to play the toughest match of the tournament so far, nothing will."

The Americans certainly showed plenty of warrior spirit in battling back from a goal down to beat Germany, and goalscorer Vicki DiMartino was in no doubt that watching the epic tale of William Wallace had been the perfect prelude.

"Oh my God, yeah!" exclaimed the striker, who was just three when Braveheart was first released. "What a great movie! Maybe it was that that kept us going when we were a goal down. I guess we just got our bows and arrows out!

"Honestly, we're all just so excited because we were definitely the underdogs. "We'd seen the poll [on FIFA.com] and knew that most people were counting us out and saying Germany were going to win the tournament. But we went out there and showed everyone we were the stronger team. Even when it looked like it was going against us, we kept going because we have total faith in each other. We always believed we could do it."

For DiMartino's coach, Kazbek Tambi, his delight at the quality of football produced was certainly matched only by his pride at the way his team of Bravehearts had refused to accept defeat. "I'm so proud of them," he enthused. "There was a lot of pressure involved in the match and it would have been easy for the girls to throw the towel in after that first 20 minutes and say: 'Yeah, well, we reached the semi-finals of a World Cup - we're satisfied with that'. It takes a different kind of person to say: 'No, that's not good enough. Let's fight on'. And the way they came from behind was the ultimate demonstration of their character."

It was perhaps fitting that it should be a historical movie that stirred American passions, as Tambi's team would certainly appear to have history on their side here in New Zealand. The US have, after all, won the inaugural edition of every single FIFA women's competition - senior, Olympic and U-20s - and DiMartino is convinced the collection will be completed on Sunday. "We're going to keep that streak going," she said bullishly. "We've proved we can beat the best teams here, so we can do it."

Di Martino, meanwhile, is on a roll of her own - one that could take her all the way to the adidas Golden Shoe as the tournament's top goalscorer. After all, by netting against Germany, the 17-year-old preserved her status as the only player to have scored in every appearance here in New Zealand. "Vicki's gigantic for us," Tambi said of his bustling striker. "The fact she's scored in all five games is just incredible."

This scoring sequence has also taken Di Martino to within a solitary strike of the tournament's leading markswoman, Dzsenifer Marozsan, and she is characteristically confident of overhauling the Germany No10. "I think I can do it, yeah," said the self-assured New Yorker. "But I don't go into games expecting to score - I just go out there to win.

"This final is going to be a huge game but I'm excited about it. I think all the Asian teams play a pretty similar style and we've seen from Japan how effective that can be. But I think we're better prepared for North Korea and we definitely believe we can win this."

Fired up and peaking at just the right time, USA's players are unlikely to require anything from their DVD collection to whet their appetites for Sunday's showdown.