American underdogs reflect on Beijing bliss

  • Brazil and USA faced off in the women’s Olympic final on 21 August 2008

  • Abby Wambach’s absence heightened A Seleção’s favouritism

  • Christie Rampone and Carli Lloyd reflect on the USWNT triumph

The news ravaged USWNT’s hopes of Women’s Olympic Football Tournament China 2008 ecstasy. Brandi Chastain, Joy Fawcett, Kristine Lilly and Mia Hamm – key figures in their Athens 2004 conquest – had all retired after that tournament. Now Abby Wambach had snapped her tibia and fibula in their final warm-up match and required a rod inserting into her left leg.

And any faint chance of on-field reconstructive surgery disappeared when they lost 2-0 to Norway in their tournament opener.

"Losing such an impactful player just before the Games when Abby broke her leg, that was totally devastating,” Christie Rampone told recently. “Everything that could've gone wrong, went wrong in that game against Norway. The media counted us out. That was the first time we felt that we were not looked at like we were going to win this. That hit us hard.”

If the US had been written off, another name had been all but written on the trophy. Brazil, a meliorated model of the side which handed USA a devastating 4-0 defeat in the FIFA Women’s World Cup China 2007™ semi-finals, had Marta and Cristiane at the peak of their ferocious powers and battered reigning global queens Germany 4-1 to reach the final.

Surprisingly, the Americans were pencilled in to act as bridesmaids at the Brazilians’ grandiose coronation. More surprisingly, Angela Hucles, only playing because of Wambach’s injury, a midfielder “stunned” to learn she’d be the US spearhead, got them there.

The Virginia Beach native hit five goals in five games, including one in the 2-1 win over Canada in the quarter-finals and two in the 4-2 reserve of Japan in the semis, to make it an all-Americas final.

Brazil certainly lived up to their favouritism but despite their domination, they couldn’t find a way past Hope Solo over 90 minutes. Then, in extra time, Carli Lloyd produced a goal worthy of winning any tournament.

“It was definitely one of my most amazing moments,” Carli Lloyd told the Olympic Channel. “Up on the podium, receiving the medal around my neck, it was emotional.

“It was the first time I had been to an Olympics, first medal I had ever won. Our team did something spectacular because most people didn’t think we were going to win it.

“It was amazing. I remember coming home and just feeling on cloud nine. I scored in the final game to win it. Receiving the medal, it was just an unbelievable moment for me, for my team-mates, and it is something I will cherish forever.”

Rampone said: "I respect that team because it really didn't have a household name,” said Rampone. “We slowly got better and better each and every game. We wrote our own script.

“The four forwards that took Abby's place stepped up. Carli Lloyd was amazing in that tournament, Angela Hucles, Amy Rodriguez and Natasha Kai really stepped up and helped lead the team to that victory. We were so fortunate to have Pia [Sundhage] as a new coach with her energy which made us appreciate the game even more.

"Also being a mother of two at that point and being able to make it back after having two children and leading the team as captain, it was the icing on the cake for everything I put into the sport. It's surreal. You almost forget what you did at that moment when the final whistle blew."