Going into China 2007, it was near-impossible to find a coach, player or pundit who did not believe the title was USA-bound. It was a remarkable testament, therefore, to football's enduringly fickle nature that it took just 90 minutes for the runaway favourites - a team unbeaten in 51 matches - to be all but written off as a major force.
The semi-final loss to Brazil, the Americans' critics argued, was evidence enough that, having been caught and overtaken by their South American conquerors, they were merely at the start of an inexorable slide. Inevitably, the internal discord caused by the messy Hope Solo affair only increased this sense of gloom, yet there was precious little evidence of a spent force in the women's game during Greg Ryan's side impressive 4-1 win over Norway.
This, in fact, was the USA we had been promised: slick, strong, well-balanced and with an imperious goalscoring centre-forward in Abby Wambach. Indeed, for the six-goal striker herself, the satisfaction she felt at securing the adidas Silver Shoe paled in comparison to her delight at proving that reports of her team's demise had been greatly exaggerated.
Speaking exclusively to FIFA.com, Wambach said: "As much as we wanted to win this game and take that medal, this was about showing our country and the rest of the world that we weren't about to lie down and die. I'm really proud of the way our team responded to the Brazil defeat and everything that went on around it. After all that's been said and written about us the past few days, the way we played today just goes to show that we still have a lot of talent in this team. And we can get better.
"I think we can all be excited about what's coming up and I firmly believe that we still have a lot to offer at these major championships in terms of challenging for trophies. In fact, I'm looking forward to the next World Cup already because I can't wait to prove we're still a force and that we're still as passionate about this game - and winning silverware - as we've always been."
'We let ourselves down'
Wambach is just as keen that, after a week dominated by negative headlines swirling round the divisive issue of Solo and her post-semi-final comments, the manner of the US win over Norway be used to dispel any suggestions of disunity. The striker certainly earned credit by refusing to single out Solo, instead speaking of her team's collective failings, with Wambach reflecting that the last few days have served merely to re-affirm an old football truism.
"The past week is that has shown everyone once
again that the team is all-important," she said. "We saw
it against Brazil. I mean, I have never, ever seen them play
anywhere near as well as they did that night - and that's
because they played as a team. There wasn't a chance that
Brazil weren't going to come out victorious playing the way
they did, and it takes a lot for me to tell you that.
"What we had to face up to was that they were unified, they were a team - and we weren't. We let ourselves down in that respect after the game as well but in the days since, we got together and said 'you know what, we've got to be a team again'. And that was the secret today, simple as that - we stuck together".
Forgive and forget
That sentiment was echoed by Wambach's coach, Greg Ryan lauding his players for having "united, supported each other and pulled together". This sense of solidarity that the US are so keen to foster also looks certain to ensure that, rather than being ostracised for her controversial outburst, Solo will be eased back into the fold - a harsh lesson having been learned.
Ryan certainly hinted that would be the outcome when he said: "The thing to remember with Hope is that she is still very young. We all want to see Hope do well in the future and we'll be handling the question of her coming back (into the team) internally."
Wambach certainly believes that Solo will not be the only player US player left older and considerably wiser by the China 2007 experience, and is convinced that Ryan's team will be a better side for the difficulties they have encountered in the Far East.
"I think that we've learned a lot here, that's for sure," concluded Wambach. "It's been an incredible lesson for our younger players in terms of educating them on the pressure, the atmosphere, the demands of playing at a major tournament. Even the defeat to Brazil, and the experience of elimination, can be incredibly useful to those girls. They know what it takes now. We'll be stronger next time around, don't worry about that."
For Wambach and USA, 2011 simply can not come soon enough.