Sundhage conducts the orchestra
© Foto-net

The USA face their biggest test under new coach Pia Sundhage as their team of personalities look to stifle the star-studded Brazilians in Thursday's gold medal women's football match at the Beijing Olympics.

The Americans are rebuilding after a fractious campaign at last year's FIFA Women's World Cup in China, where they were taken apart by Brazil 4-0 in the semi-finals and finished with the bronze behind champions Germany.

Sundhage, one of the world's all-time greatest female players during her 22-year international career with Sweden, became the first foreign coach to take charge of the USA team last November. Now, nine months later, the Americans are defending the Olympic title they won against Brazil in Athens and doing it without their leading goalscorer Abby Wambach.

Wambach, their leading scorer with 13 goals this year and 99 in 127 career matches, broke her left leg in the final USA tuneup match against Brazil on 16 July, and was forced out of the Games.

Brazil have a formidable assortment of gifted individual stars, headed by two-time FIFA World Player of the Year Marta and joint all-time leading Olympic goalscorer Cristiane.

On the evidence at the Beijing tournament, the Americans are gelling under the coaching of 48-year-old Sundhage. They were irresistible as they fought back from an early goal down to thump Japan 4-2 in their semi-final at the Beijing Workers' Stadium on Monday.

Down in Shanghai, Brazil stunned world champions Germany 4-1 in the other semi, with the prolific Cristiane getting a brace and Marta producing a trademark goal, rounding two defenders and slotting home with the outside of her left foot. The Brazilians will rank as favourites for their first Olympic gold medal, a feat their five-time FIFA World Cup™-winning men have so far failed to accomplish.

Too direct
But under Sundhage, the Americans are improving with each outing, enjoying their football and working together as a team. "The way they played last year, for me, was too direct, I have my philosophy as to how you want to attack and I thought last year was too direct," Sundhage told AFP.

"It's like they tried to find Wambach too early. We also wanted to find Wambach in our matches too because she is a great player, but we wanted to be more patient in the attack."

Sundhage, a talented musician who oftens sings to her team, is working on blending the team's varying personalities to make them enjoy their football. "When Abby Wambach broke her leg just before going to the Olympics, the two players up front had to play a little different and more players are now scoring goals," she said. "The more minutes we have together, it's easy."

"It's like Germany and Brazil, you have big players like Prinz and Marta, well Wambach was that kind of star for us too, but now I think they've bounced back very nicely both on and off the field. We tried to find a way where we can use our personalities and so far so good. We don't have one star, but we have 18 players, a team. That's why it's so much fun to be around the players on and off the field. It's a winning feeling."