Brazil hopes to loosen US grip on gold
A DOMINANT United States team face stiff competition from hosts Brazil for a fifth Olympic gold medal in six Games, as the women’s football tournament kicked off Rio 2016 yesterday.
The States’ quest for a fourth consecutive gold began against New Zealand late last night (Myanmar time) in Belo Horizonte with both men’s and women’s tournaments spread across six cities which hosted the 2014 World Cup.
The world champions are without all-time leading international goalscorer Abby Wambach at a major tournament for the first time in over a decade after she retired following the World Cup last year.
However, unlike the men’s Olympic tournament, there are no age restrictions on the players that can be selected so the USA’s English coach Jill Ellis can call upon World Player of the Year Carli Lloyd, as well as the experienced Megan Rapinoe and star striker Alex Morgan.
The USA are in need of a fast start as they face a huge clash with France on August 6 and end the opening stage of their campaign against Colombia in Manaus, nearly 3000 kilometres (1864 miles) away from Rio in the Amazonian jungle.
Co-captain Becky Sauerbrunn admitted previous success makes the Americans heavy favourites to claim gold once more in the final at Rio’s iconic Maracana Stadium on August 19.
“We always look for that next challenge because we constantly want to achieve that next level of greatness,” she told US Soccer’s website.
“People expect us to win. We know what it actually takes to win and that comes with a different level of accountability and sacrifice.”
Brazil have never won a football gold medal at the Olympics and although the women’s side won’t have the same pressure and expectation as their male counterparts, there is belief they can go one better than extra-time defeats to the USA in the finals at the 2004 and 2008 games.
Five-time World Player of the Year Marta spearheads a Brazilian side that also contains veteran defender Formiga, who will compete in her sixth Olympics.
“Although people say we don’t have to go and win the gold, for me, as someone who has played at other Olympics, won two silvers and come close to the gold, I think we are obliged to win it,” said striker Cristiane.
Brazil faced a tough start at Rio’s Olympic stadium yesterday against China, who qualified at the expense of 2012 silver medallists Japan and reached the World Cup quarter-finals in Canada last year.
Marta, the five-time World Player of the Year, hopes to contain American superstars such as Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan.