All things must come to an end. It’s only a question of when the end comes.
The United States women’s national soccer team has arrived in Brazil looking to win its fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal and trying to become the first FIFA Women’s World Cup champion to strike gold the next year. The U.S. is unbeaten in 15 games in 2016, and its record 11-game Olympic winning streak (dating back to 2008) is almost twice as long as any other country’s best run.
Yet making history is a tall order, especially with talented opposition standing in the way. That’s the case at the 2016 Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro, as 11 countries hope to deny Team USA from that epic achievement.
One team that won’t participate is Japan. The “Nadeshiko” beat the United States on penalty kicks in the 2011 Women’s World Cup and lost to the stars and stripes in the finals of the 2012 Olympics and the 2015 Women’s World Cup. Despite its pedigree, seventh-ranked Japan failed to qualify for the 2016 Olympics.
With Japan standing down, other sides have emerged as Team USA’s chief rivals for Olympic gold in 2016. Let’s take a quick look at them.
The No. 8 ranked team in the world has high expectations, and many hope Olympic success can accelerate women’s soccer’s growth in the land of “the beautiful game.” Brazil won silver medals in 2004 and 2008 (losing to USA both times) and finished runner-up in the 2007 Women’s World Cup. An Olympic or world championship has eluded Brazil so far.
Brazil is relying on its formidable attack to power its way through the tournament. Of all the players competing in the women’s tournament, Marta leads in career goals with 92 (in 95 games), while Cristiane holds the Olympic record with 12 career goals.
Team USA has played Brazil twice since the 2015 Women’s World Cup, drawing 1-1 on Oct. 25, 2015 and winning 3-1 four days later.
The U.S. beat Germany 2-0 in the 2015 Women’s World Cup semifinals. The No. 2 ranked Germans want revenge and a first-ever gold medal.
Top forward Celia Casic retired after the World Cup, but Annike Krahn, Melanie Behringer and Anja Mittag lead a cast of experienced and talented holdovers.
Germany won bronze medals in 2000, 2004 and 2008 but didn’t qualify for the 2012 Olympics.
The U.S. won the teams’ last meeting, topping Germany 2-1 on March 9.
Team USA will play France on Aug. 6 in Group G in what is expected to be a clash of titans. They could meet again in the semifinals or final.
France finished in fourth place in the 2011 Women’s World Cup and 2012 Olympics and fifth in the 2015 Women’s World Cup.
But France’s steady growth has yielded both an improved ranking, No. 3, and higher expectations ahead of the 2016 Olympics. Of France’s 18 players, 12 played for Lyon, which won its third UEFA Women’s Champions League title earlier this year. If they translate their club form to the international arena, France could go far.
France lost to the United States 1-0 on March 6 in the teams’ last meeting.
Fifth-ranked Australia, Sixth-ranked Sweden and 10th-ranked Canada all can trouble the U.S. if they peak and the Americans have an off day.
Thumbnail photo via Jennifer Buchanan/USA TODAY Sports Images