As the spearhead of the United States side which dominated women's football in the 1990s, Mariel Margaret 'Mia' Hamm was considered by many to be a pioneer of the sport, taking it to new levels during a 17-year career which spanned 275 caps and 158 goals.
After making her international debut as a 15-year-old, Hamm went on to take part in four FIFA Women's World Cups™ (1991, 1995, 1999, 2003), lifting the trophy on two occasions. It is therefore no wonder the former striker will be closely following the Stars and Stripes’ progress at the 2011 edition of the showpiece event on German soil.
In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, Hamm speaks about who she believes will be challenging for next year's title, which teams surprised her most in qualifying and the biggest stars in women's football today.
FIFA.com: Mia, the FIFA Women's World Cup takes place in Germany next year and the list of competing nations reads like a 'who's who' of women's football. Which teams do you think will be the strongest?
Mia Hamm: Every team that has qualified for the World Cup has come a long way to get here. The European teams had a very tight playing schedule and that shows real dedication and resilience.
What’s your verdict on host nation Germany?
Germany are the two-time defending champions. I think they're really looking forward not only to putting on a great show, but also to competing at the highest level in front of their home fans.
Do you think the Germans can claim the title for a third time in succession?
I wouldn’t put it past them. Germany are doing so much in terms of youth-team development and the results are plain to see. Their U-20s are world champions as well. They're very committed to the women's side of the game, but they're also the team everybody else will be trying to beat. Brazil are an exciting team too, they’re very dynamic.
What about the United States?
You can never write off the US. They had a tough time in qualifying, but I think that will serve them well in terms of experience and the awareness that every second counts out on the pitch [Editor’s note: The USA qualified for Germany 2011 thanks to a 2-0 aggregate win over play-off opponents Italy. Their 1-0 first-leg away win came courtesy of a 94th-minute goal]. I think they'll be highly motivated to bring the World Cup back to US soil.
Which players are you expecting to shine at next year's tournament?
Marta. She's just one of those players you get from Brazil. Every time she touches the ball you just marvel at her creativity and her one-on-one ability. Just look at the way she's progressed over the last few years.
Are there any American talents we should look out for?
For the US I'd have to say Abby Wambach. No one likes playing against her but everybody would love to have her in their own team. She just goes for it for 90-plus minutes and would do anything for the team. She missed the last Olympic Games because of a broken leg and I know she's looking forward to getting back onto the international scene.
Finally, which team surprised you most in qualifying?
Colombia. They'll be at the Women’s World Cup for the first time, which is fantastic. It shows that women’s soccer is growing in South America. I'm really excited for them, not just because they qualified but also because of the experience they will gain. Germany will be doing everything they can to put on the best Women's World Cup ever, so for them to participate in that kind of environment will be very exciting for those young players.