The 2012 women’s Olympic soccer competition will begin one year after an exciting World Cup, which saw the U.S. women’s soccer team make a stirring run to the finals. They fell short, as the Lady Americans squandered a late lead in regulation, only to lose on penalty kicks to Japan.
Heading to London, the hope is that this misfortune for Team USA is a minor and not a major bump in their road to capture gold once again. Yes, the rest of the world has closed the gap, but the U.S. women’s team still has the deepest, talented roster in the Olympic draw. Abby Wambach is a matchup nightmare for most teams in international play.
Here are the biggest threats to U.S. women’s soccer team winning gold:
Japan may have a target on their back being the reigning World Cup champions, but this year’s squad isn’t the clear favorite to win gold at the London Games. Luckily, they have two great leaders (Homare Sawa and Aya Miyama) who made significant contributions to them winning the World Cup last summer.
Sawa could be playing in her last Olympics, as she’s 33 years old and looking for one last shot at glory. Miyama is clearly the vocal leader on the pitch; her strength is her leg. Who could forget Miyama’s game-winning free-kick goal against New Zealand in last year’s World Cup?
Great Britain is competing in the Olympic women’s soccer competition for the first time, but they have a difficult task of surviving in the same group with two-time silver medalist Brazil. Unfortunately, we’ll find out quickly if Great Britain is a contender or a pretender for a medal at this year's Olympiad.
Expectations are high for them being the host nation. The key for Britain to become a serious medal contender is how well their team (Kelly Smith, Rachel Yankey and Alex Scott) leaders will play in the draw. It would be a fitting end to Smith’s career winning a gold medal, as she has battled through injuries all throughout her career.
Canada does have an outside shot of winning a gold medal, as they’re looking to redeem themselves after a poor performance at last year’s World Cup.
Inexperience could be their biggest determinant in contending for a medal, as Canada was easily shutout by the U.S., 4-0, in an Olympic qualifying match earlier this year. Once they gain the experience, you have to expect them to be a serious contender for the 2015 World Cup, which will be played on their home soil.
One of the bright spots of this Olympic draw is having the opportunity to watch Christine Sinclair, who is considered one of the best female players in the world. The lack of a supporting cast is holding her from becoming a true media darling like Abby Wambach.
Brazil has played the role of being a bridesmaid perfectly in Olympic soccer competition; the two-time silver medalist team will once again be in the running for gold at the 2012 London Games. The biggest question for them is if they can gain some chemistry on the pitch to ascertain their ultimate goal. At times, Brazil has looked very disorganized in early qualifying matches this year.
Marta is a very talented player, but she has zero championships in international competition on her resume. Unfortunately, she cannot do it alone, as Brazil must come together and effectively use her skills if they’re going to win a gold medal. Another offensive weapon for Brazil is defender Fabiana, who can score anywhere from the outside.
Besides the U.S., France may have the best overall roster in the draw, as they have the perfect blend of young and old to compete for their first-ever Olympic soccer medal. But France has a rough road to gain such honors.
Their first match is against the Americans on July 25, and the outcome will give us our first clue on whose road just became easier. A win by France will make this draw a wide-open tournament.
Despite being a world power in women’s soccer, Sweden is still lacking Olympic medals on their mantle. Their best finish was fourth at the 2004 Athens Games.
Is this the year for gold?
Yes, if opposing teams have a hard time stopping the attacking style of Sweden’s Lotta Schelin, who can consistently put the ball in the net. Her production will have a major role in where France will finish in the draw.