O’Reilly braced for Canada test
© AFP

Unlike the other athletes competing at the Olympic Games, most footballers do not aim to beat any personal bests when they take to the field. But after propelling her side into the lead just 42 seconds into their meeting with New Zealand on Tuesday, USA forward Heather O'Reilly promptly found herself in the record books, having scored the quickest goal in the history of the Women's Olympic Football Tournament.

"To tell you the truth I don't think it's that important, but it is an unusual record and a bit of fun," the smiling goalscorer tells FIFA.com. "I'd never even thought about achieving something like that but anything that helps the team win is welcome. That's the only thing that matters."

A veteran of USA's golden campaign in Athens four years ago, the 23-year-old is close to landing another medal on her second appearance at the Games, an achievement beyond the reach of many. "Although it's my second time, the passion and enthusiasm is still intact," said O'Reilly, who sports the No9 jersey once worn by the inimitable Mia Hamm.

"There's nothing like the Games. You've got the chance to watch other sports and athletes and you feel a special adrenaline here. It's not hard to raise your game in a setting like this."

We've got a special rivalry with them because we're neighbours. They're always very intense, hard-fought games
USA's Heather O'Reilly on their rivalry with Canada.

If O'Reilly and her team-mates are to defend their title successfully, however, they will have to get past their old rivals Canada in what promises to be an uncompromising last-eight clash. ". They're going to be very motivated but so are we." 

Just as O'Reilly stops talking, applause breaks out in the background as Lionel Messi and the rest of the Argentina squad arrive at the hotel, which, incidentally, is where the American and Canadian girls are also staying. And as the University of North Carolina striker explained, both sides are maintaining a respectful distance from each other as the build-up to Friday's showdown continues.

"It's a little strange because we see each other at lunchtime. There's a bit of eye contact, but we all know the real competition is out on the pitch. Once you're off it, nothing special goes on."

With a record of 36 wins, three draws and only four defeats in the 43 meetings between the two, the Americans can be forgiven for feeling relaxed, although the Canadians are sure to be out to improve on their unimpressive record. "Canada will be playing a typically physical game and I'm sure they'll be doing all they can to beat us," warned O'Reilly. "We know how to stop them though."

Sadly for the American girls, their male counterparts exited the Games on Thursday, ending hopes of a Stars and Stripes double. "It would have been lovely to share something with them here, but I'm sure everyone back home will be getting right behind us."

We finished third in the World Cup, something we didn't expect. This is a real opportunity to reach the top again
Heather O'Reilly wants an Olympic gold to erase the pain of finishing third at China 2007.

If the young record-breaker has her way, come next Thursday she will be the proud winner of a second gold medal in a short but already glittering career. "If we can do it, it will prove to this generation of players that we can be number one," added O'Reilly. " and I just hope it works out that way."