USA hopeful despite Wambach loss

If it were not for bad luck, the US women's football squad would have no luck at all as it prepares to defend Olympic gold in China.

Abby Wambach, their leading scorer with 13 goals this year and 99 in 127 career matches, suffered a broken left leg against Brazil on 16 July, in the final USA tune-up match, and will miss the Beijing Olympics.

The USA's first-round draw includes Japan, New Zealand and the only team to finish ahead of the Americans in the past three Olympics, Norway. The USA women won gold in 1996 and 2004, but lost to Norway in the 2000 Olympic final.

Swedish coach Pia Sundhage took over the team after a flop in last year's FIFA Women's World Cup™ that ended with bitter feelings after goalkeeper Hope Solo was benched by then-coach Greg Ryan, and Brazil thrashed the Olympic champions 4-0.

Germany, winners of the past two FIFA Women's World Cup crowns, will lead a set of formidable challengers that includes hosts China in trying to dethrone the Americans.

Golden dreams
But a new generation of USA women, young talent blended with key veterans, has gone on an impressive unbeaten run under Sundhage this year. Solo is back guarding the nets for the Olympic side.

And golden dreams aren't outrageous despite losing Wambach. "I have the utmost confidence in this team bringing home the gold," Wambach said. "Obviously it's devastating, but above everything else I'm only one player and you can never win a championship with just one player."

But what a player to lose! Wambach ranks ninth on the all-time women's football goal list. It was her extra-time strike that brought the USA the gold in the 2004 Olympics. The 28-year-old forward can only watch from the sidelines now.

"I'm excited to watch them and cheer them on during this challenge they've been presented with," Wambach said. "It's really going to need everyone to fight together."

This is a sharp contrast from last year, after Solo criticised Ryan for benching her and the USA lost, although the seeds of 2008 unity were sown in last year's discontent.

Hindsight is 20-20. What's important is we learned from the experience and our team got a lot stronger because of it
Midfielder Heather O'Reilly is confident that the troubles of 2007 are behind the USA team

"," midfielder Heather O'Reilly said.

"I learned what has allowed this team to be succesful is not necessarily talent but teamwork. It's always a team willing to work with each other and fight even beyond the decision of a coach: leaving a bad moment, not dwelling on what could have, would have, should have happened but taking the moment and making the best of what could happen.

"That situation is so far in our past and things we learned from it will hopefuly make us better in Beijing."

Chinese lessons
Sundhage is a former assistant coach of China's national team who lived in China for six months, teaching as well as learning and now bringing some of the techniques from China and her homeland to the USA squad.

"It's a very different coaching style. It was important to learn how their coaches do things," she said. "The most I learned from China was communication, body communication because I don't speak Chinese. It was a great experience."