USA
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Virtually a permanent fixture at the top of the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking in the last three years, USA are looking to cement their status as one of the pre-eminent sides in the women’s game by winning their third world crown. Although their last FIFA Women’s World Cup™ title came back in 1999, the Americans won Olympic gold at Athens 2004 and again at Beijing 2008, and are strongly fancied to return to the top of the podium at Germany 2011.

The road to Germany
The two-time world champions reached the finals the hard way. An unexpected 2-1 defeat to Mexico in the semi-finals of the CONCACAF qualifying event denied them a direct ticket to Germany and meant they had to fight it out for the last available berth with Italy in a play-off. Alex Morgan’s injury-time strike gave them a 1-0 win in a tight first leg in Padua, with Amy Rodriguez scoring the only goal of the return leg to confirm the Stars and Stripes’ safe passage.

The star players
After the retirement of evergreen Kristine Lilly, Shannon Boxx takes over as the heartbeat and inspiration of the side, with a clutch of ambitious youngsters providing a talented supporting cast. Goalkeeping has always been one of the Americans’ strong suits and even though star shotstopper Hope Solo is an injury worry, Nicole Barnhart has proved herself a very able deputy. Striker Abby Wambach can be relied upon to carry a potent threat, while young forward Alex Morgan will be looking to fulfil the rich promise she showed at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Chile 2008.

The coach
Not many of the coaches plying their trade at Germany 2011 have career records quite as impressive as Pia Sundhage. Aside from a spell with Lazio in Italy, the Swede spent all her playing career in her homeland, winning four Swedish league winners medals and four cup winners medals. In making 146 appearances for her country, she scored 71 goals and played at two FIFA Women’s World Cups (1991 – where Sweden finished third – and 1995) and the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. She also helped the Scandinavians win the European title in 1984.

After a stint as player-coach with Hammarby IF DFF she retired in 1996, whereupon she went to coach in the WUSA, winning the league in 2003 with Boston Breakers. An assistant to China coach Marika Domanski-Lyfors at the last FIFA Women’s World Cup finals, she then took charge of the USA team, steering them to success at the 2008 Algarve Cup and at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament at Beijing later that year.

Previous FIFA Women's World Cups 
USA have appeared in every FIFA Women’s World Cup finals to date. The only FIFA tournament they have ever failed to qualify for in any age category was the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Trinidad and Tobago 2010.

The Americans have never finished outside the top three at the world finals. Crowned world champions in 1991 and 1999, they took third place in 1995, 2003 and 2007.

The stat
2 - The number of games USA have lost in 66 outings since their semi-final exit at China 2007: against Norway in the opening match of the gold-medal-winning campaign at Beijing 2008, and that Germany 2011 qualifier against Mexico. Of their remaining games, they have won 58 and drawn six.

What they said
“Things have really changed since FIFA started the U-17 and U-20 Women’s World Cups. In the qualifiers, for example, we played against Costa Rica and Guatemala and they were both very technical. Technique is very important to the future of this sport and it’s something we need to work on in this country. We need players who are more technical. Standards have improved a lot and it’s going to get harder and harder to stay at the top of the Ranking. We’re doing what we can though,” USA coach Pia Sundhage, after her side finally reached Germany 2011.