After a shock opening defeat to Norway, USA coach Pia Sundhage believes that her team are getting back to their best after the victory over Japan.
Committed and charismatic, one gets the impression that the US’s loss to Norway hurt Sundhage more than anyone. Not only would the Swede be stung by the loss to her Scandinavian rivals, but you get the feeling that she laid the responsibility for the 2-0 defeat squarely on her own shoulders.
That’s why she was smiling wider than anyone after the victory over Japan, amid signs that the current Olympic champions are getting back to their best.
“I think the more minutes we get together in the Olympics, the better we will be,” Sundhage told FIFA.com. “We have 180 minutes now and get 90 more against New Zealand. So we will improve our game from one game to another.
“I was very happy about our performance against a very technical and talented Japan team. Besides a great goal by Carli Lloyd, I was pleased with our tactics which accommodated a fast player up top, Amy Rodriguez, and the way Heather O’Reilly played on the right side.”
Questions getting answered
With top goalscorer and first-choice centre-forward Abby Wambach out with a leg break, the Americans came into the tournament with questions about where the goals would come from.
“We are aware that we don’t have the goalscorer,” admitted Sundhage. “We still have created scoring chances and we talk about so much about the centre of midfield. If the centre of midfield with Carli and Shannon Boxx are involved in the attack, we will create scoring chances, and it is OK to win 1-0.
The US coach emphasised the importance of Rodriguez’s speed in the attack. “We made a priority of A-Rod getting past the Japanese defence, and the same with Heather O’Reilly on the right side,” she said. “They did a lot for our attack, but at the same time we were compact in our defending even though Japan played very nice football in the attacking third, actually some of the best I’ve seen. However, we stayed compact and they didn’t score."
Sundhage will now turn her attention to the next game plan. The USA will face New Zealand on Tuesday with qualification for the next phase on the line, and Sundhage will need another complete effort from her team if they are to keep alive their hopes of a second consecutive place at the top of the podium.