Sure to be among the favourites, the USA - participants at every previous FIFA Women's world finals and winners in 1991 and on home soil in 1999 - roared their way to China 2007 as champions of CONCACAF. In point of fact, the dominant American ladies are the only side in the region to take the honours in the history of the continental showdown. Led by wily old campaigner and captain Kristine Lilly, the Americans beat Canada in the final of last year's CONCACAF Women's Gold Cup to book another ticket on the world stage.
Although in the end it was a matter of job done, the USA didn't have things all their own way in the Gold Cup. On 22 November 2006, the Americans lined up in Los Angeles against up-and-coming Mexico. The affair was most notable for the stern resistance the Mexicans put up and also for a seeming lack of confidence in front of goal shown by the heavily fancied Americans. At the final whistle though, two goals from on-song striker Abby Wambach (who now has an astonishing goals-to-games ratio for the States) were enough to see the Americans through to the final. The win over the Mexicans saw the US book their spot in China, as two representatives from CONCACAF would be heading for the finals in the Far East.
Canada - who beat Jamaica handily in their previous match - were waiting for the Americans in the final, also in Los Angeles. And the Canucks - long considered the number-two team in the CONCACAF region - put in a bruising performances against their neighbours to the South and looked to have earned themselves a penalty shootout with the final minute of extra-time approaching and the scoresheet reading 1-1. But the Americans earned a spot-kick in the dying seconds for a foul on Natasha Kai and up stepped old, reliable Kristine Lilly to score her 116th goal in her 319th cap and see the Americans keep their prefect record of 24 wins and zero losses in CONCACAF Championships.
Since taking over from April Heinrichs in early 2005, Greg Ryan - a former professional standout in the now-defunct North American Soccer League - has taken the USA from strength to strength. Undefeated in his first 26 games in charge, Ryan led the American gals to an Algarve Cup title, a Peace Queen Cup championship in Korea Republic and a CONCACAF Championship on home soil and will surely be relishing his side's chances in China in 2007. With experience coaching at University level with both the University of Wisconsin and Southern Methodist, Ryan is considered the perfect man to do the job of seeing the US through a moment of transition in which the older generation of stars is being replaced by an upstart crew of young hopefuls.
|9||Heather O REILLY|