Gold confetti streamed down on to the pitch, while Pink’s song 'Raise Your Glass' blared from the speakers as Japan danced their way around Frankfurt's Waldstadion waving a flag of thanks towards their loyal supporters. But one nation's ecstasy was another's agony, and that other was USA, who twice dropped the lead en route to a 2-2 draw in the FIFA Women's World Cup Germany 2011™ Final, before losing 3-1 on penalties.
The Americans trudged off the pitch in disbelief, and not even the adidas Silver Ball, which Abby Wambach received soon afterwards, could ease her pain. The inspirational striker, who had rescued USA from the cusp of elimination in their quarter-final with Brazil, has since been forced to swallow that stinging loss to Japan and evaluate how the national team can further evolve in order to challenge for a world title once again.
Wambach told FIFA.com: “I believe that having a loss like that can only do really positive things for a team – it humbles you, it centres you, and it allows you to know where you need to get better so you never have to experience or feel that way again."
Although the Stars and Stripes settled for silver at Germany 2011, little has calmed down in terms of media attention for Wambach and her fellow starring team-mates such as goalkeeper Hope Solo, midfielder Megan Rapinoe and young forward Alex Morgan. In fact, Wambach found the time to speak with FIFA.com as she was en route to Los Angeles for a one-day photo shoot - taking a pause from training camp currently being held in Phoenix, Arizona, where USA are preparing to lock horns with budding rivals Sweden on Saturday.
“I think this is one of the best first camps that we’ve had in a long time in terms of the way people came in and prepared in the off season, and I think that is a testament to the fire that was lit post-World Cup in many of us, because we came so close and fell short,” said the 31-year-old, also noting how well the team has responded to the new 4-2-3-1 formation coach Pia Sundhage is currently favouring after a six-week lay-off from international duty.
“When it comes to changing formation, you have to go through some rough spots in order to really make strides. I think what Pia saw at the World Cup was that this formation not only based on our personnel, but based on what other teams were doing in the world is going to suit us best.”
The Americans first revealed the new-look line-up in a post-FIFA Women’s World Cup celebration series two months ago against Canada, in which they took away a win and a draw. Wambach, specifically, is continuing to adjust to her role as a sole striker and is excited about the potential for such changes to ring in more opportunities on goal.
“Personally speaking, it’s different because I am the lone forward, but if played correctly this formation has proven to get more shots on goal and to give strikers better and more dangerous chances,” she said. “It’s going to be exciting."
Wambach targets Swedish revenge, Olympic gold
With qualifying for the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament London 2012 on the horizon in January, USA are not only hoping to avenge the rarity of two successive defeats by Sweden – first at the Four Nations Tournament in China PR and then at Germany 2011 - this weekend, but also identify areas for improvement.
Wambach believes the Scandinavians match up well with her country both physically and technically, and she has not forgotten USA's first-ever FIFA Women’s World Cup group-stage loss, which the Swedes inflicted upon them in July.
“I think there are a couple schools of thought when you face a team that has beaten you two times previous," she said. "The first thought is, 'It's so early in the season we want to learn a lot'. It’s not that we want to make mistakes, but we want to know where we are vulnerable.
“And the other school of thought is, ‘You know what? We are the United States, and we don’t like losing, not to mention two times in the same calendar year'."
USA have not only the friendly with Sweden on their minds, but the harping weight of what-if scenarios that have not once, but twice plagued them over the last year. Attributed as a world power in the women’s game, Americans not long ago fretted about the team’s possible exclusion from this year’s global finals. Having lost to hosts Mexico in the semi-finals of the CONCACAF qualifying tournament last November, USA became the last team to qualify for Germany 2011 as they had to face Italy in a two-legged series to assure their place.
Wambach recalled: “I think that if we did what we set out to do in Cancun last November, we surely should have won that tournament. We made a lot of mistakes. When we played against Mexico they played very well and I think we have to realise, and know now moving forward, that we can’t make any more mistakes. I think what happened last year was really good – it was a bit of a wake-up call not to take anything for granted because it can be taken away from you in an instant.”
While USA nearly took an early exit once they got to the FIFA Women's World Cup, a thrilling run to the Final did follow. Despite returning home without the trophy, Wambach and the squad have set their sights on alternative gold, this time at London 2012 should they reach the tournament.
When speaking on the side’s qualifying chances, Wambach was full of confidence: “There are no second chances, we have to take care of business first time around. We want to make this fame that some of us are getting worth it, and I think the way we do that is by qualifying for London and winning gold to prove that not only did we capture the hearts of the American people, but we are one of the best teams in the world and we do deserve championships.”