Was it already more than a year ago that we watched in delight as the United States women’s soccer team pulled off a comeback for the ages against Brazil, and then in horror as Japan did the same just a week later to capture an unexpected (and its first) World Cup.
Of course, it’s a little hard to be horrified when speaking of Japan, what a great story and a class act in a country that was not far removed from a devastating tsunami.
For whatever reason, the United States has continued to just about own the Olympic tournament, even if they haven’t won a World Cup since 1999, the U.S. has won every gold medal but one (2000) the Olympics have had to offer, posting a dominant 18-2-3 all-time mark.
Both losses at the Olympics came to Norway, including the opener of the 2008 Games in Beijing, but the Norwegians are nowhere to be found in Britain, and they’re not alone. The entertaining cast of 16 characters we had last summer in Germany has been cut to 12 for London (of course, most soccer matches won’t be in London, but I digress), and sadly we’ll be missing the Germans themselves, the aforementioned Norwegians, up-and-coming Australia, and African sides Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea, neither of whom embarrassed themselves in Germany (Nigeria, especially, they beat Canada, and gave France fits).
But even without those teams, when it comes to the medal rounds, there are plenty of nominees to dethrone the Americans, starting with World Champion Japan. If you’re like me, you forgot (at least a little), but the Japanese were beginning to knock on the door way back in China four years ago. A new coach named Norio Sasaki had them playing decent soccer, but they were derailed twice by those darn Americans, 1-0 in the group stage and 4-2 in the semifinals after grabbing an early lead (Japan also played the U.S. tough in the 2004 quarterfinals, losing 2-1 on an Abby Wambach goal).
Then, of course, there are the French, who on paper, might be the favorites, running roughshod over just about everyone (including Japan) in friendlies, and seemingly just getting better since last summer, where they were pretty darn good. They haven’t knocked off the United States yet, but that didn’t stop Japan last year, did it?
Those seem to be the three heavy favorites. Great Britain, as the hosts, could be a factor, but I find it somewhat amazing that countries scour the world for players that will be eligible to play for them, and then Scotland and England can barely get along to combine to make a team for the Olympics, for crying out loud. But I don’t live there, so who am I to talk?
Sweden can’t be counted out, Brazil has Marta, and Canada has Christine Sinclair. So, really, if all goes according to plan, the entire knockout stage will be to eliminate one of: New Zealand, Cameroon, Colombia, South Africa, or North Korea.
So much for drama there, huh?
But I’ve been invited (as far as you know) back to the AWK Summer Timeshare, so here I am. The place looks a little different, but I’m happy to be here. Coverage will be a little tougher at the Olympics than it was at the World Cup. As Hope Solo has told us (and some others), there is plenty of other action going on around England, which means that all 12 teams will play on the same day in all three group match days. But we’ll do our best.
And have fun doing it.
A few times after the completion of games of the recent men’s Euros, Michael Cox of the fantastic Zonal Marking website simply said, “Small margins.” Like Spain beating Portugal in penalty kicks, for instance. With the real start of the tournament not until the quarterfinals, a team getting some breaks for three straight games may be able to beat the odds and take home an unlikely gold medal. But, as the Spain men have proven repeatedly, maybe not.
Here are my quick predictions: