At the age of 36, Christie Rampone is the oldest and most experienced member of the USA squad. A veteran of the elite women's game, Rampone's 14-year career in her national team has brought her a raft of trophies, including a FIFA Women's World Cup 1999™ winner’s medal, although she was an unused substitute in the final on home soil. By contrast, she is a guaranteed starter in Frankfurt tomorrow when the US tackle Japan for the biggest prize in women's football.
Rampone took her first step onto the global footballing stage exactly 12 years ago, and she has witnessed a dramatic change in the intervening period. "The growth is amazing. More countries are putting more money and support behind their women’s programmes, and it’s showing in the play. The speed and vision of the players is much faster, and the fitness levels much better. The game has definitely grown and it’s amazing to be part of it," the seasoned campaigner exclusively told FIFA.com.
However, the changes are not confined to the football itself. The mother-of-two has modified her own role in the US women’s national team over the years. The young, untested hopeful who made one brief appearance at the 1999 finals has become the undisputed leader and captain of her troops. "In 1999, I was more of an observer, pushing for a place in the line-up. Now, I’m here in 2011 as a leader, trying to give my team assurance and helping to keep everything calm, making sure all my team-mates are confident and ready to play the game," she explained.
The blessing of parenthood
Mothers, let alone mothers-of-two, are a rarity in the top echelons of sport, but far from affecting her game in a negative way, Rampone is convinced the experience of motherhood has made her a better player. "I’m still playing because I just love the sport, I love football. The balance comes from having children, being able to be a mom and enjoy time with my kids, having something I love and am passionate about. I love to compete, I love playing at the highest level, but at the end of the day – a good day or a bad day – it’s good to come home to the kids. I think the balance made me enjoy the sport better and become a better leader. As soon as I hear there any issues or problems, I attack them right away and make sure that nothing lingers," she told FIFA.com.
The player, a finalist at the Women's Olympic Football Tournament on three occasions, takes her last bow at the FIFA Women's World Cup tomorrow, in what is her first appearance in the final. "The feeling of playing in a World Cup and an Olympic final are very similar. As an American athlete, you grow up and dream of Olympic gold, but the times are changing. Soccer has grown so much, and this World Cup means a lot to this team. The American and Japanese teams are going to play to their peak in the final. This is what you train for the whole time, to be in a final," she declared.
Pride of the nation
"The World Cup has been on our minds for a long time. Trying to make it to the final and contesting the final was always our main goal. Have we played our best soccer? No. But it’s about the team, how the team develops, growing stronger together. If we can win this one last match, it would be just amazing for everybody back home, with all the support and coverage we’ve had. It would truly make us proud to make America proud.“
However, it is not Rampone's style to count her chickens before they have hatched, and she is acutely aware of the threat posed by Japan, arguably the surprise package of the tournament after eliminating holders Germany and the muscular Swedes. "Japan are an amazing team. They’re very disciplined, patient, and very attack-oriented. Their speed of play is amazing. To beat Japan it’ll take an organised, distinctively American team. It’s going to be a great match on Sunday."
The North Americans and the Japanese last went to the mat at a major tournament at the 2008 Olympics, although the USA captain feels her team has come on a very long way since then. “It’s the unpredictability on the field. We have so many different personalities on the team now, and we’re more creative. Our build-up play has developed in recent years, and we’re better on the attacking side. We need to combine both to win this game," the rock-solid defender concluded.