How do you stop a team that is the reigning Olympic and world champion, and which counts among its ranks the best player and the best coach in the world? There aren't many favourites coming to Rio 2016 in a better position than the USA's women's football team, the side of world player of the year Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan and coach Jill Ellis.
The USA have won four of the five Olympic gold medals available since women's football joined the Games; the only blemish on their record is Sydney 2000, when they lost to Norway in the final. At Rio 2016, there is no question that they will be the team to beat. One day, however, the USA women will have to lose again at the Olympic Games. Rio2016.com has drawn up a list of the five teams that could threaten American domination in Brazil and stop them from winning an unprecedented fifth Olympic title in Rio this August:
1 – Germany: hungry for revenge The two-time world champions (2003 and 2007) have never won an Olympic gold medal, but will be gunning for a first title in Rio de Janeiro. With the best attack at the last World Cup, led by the experienced Anja Mittag, they are sure to cause defences problems, as they seek to improve on the bronze medals they won at Sydney 2000, Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008. At the 2015 World Cup, Germany faced the United States in the semi-finals, where they lost 2-0. Is that a scent of revenge in the air? Celia Sasic of Germany missed her penalty against the United States in the semi-final of the 2015 World Cup.
2 – Surprising Canada Canada were a box of surprises at London 2012. After proving tough opponents for the United States in the semi-final (losing 4-3 in extra time), they won their bronze medal match against favourites France. At the Rio 2016 Games they hope to do even better. “We had just nine months of preparation before London 2012. Now we have had four years of work and we have come a long way in terms of tactical options. We can adapt to however the match is played,” says coach John Herdman. Kadeisha Buchanan of Canada is one of the best defenders in the world.
3 – Hopeful France France were responsible for one of the only two defeats the United States suffered last year, beating them 2-0 in a friendly match. French coach Philippe Bergeoo is confident that Les Bleues, after finishing fourth at London 2012 and at the 2011 World Cup, will be returning from Rio with medals around their necks. “For me, the Olympic Games are more prestigious than the World Cup. As a child, I never dreamed about the World Cup or the European Championship, but I did about the Games,” Bergeoo says. France is one of the few teams to have beaten the United States in recent years.
4 – Sweden: a thorn in the side of the Americans The last side to qualify for the Olympic football tournament, Sweden had to do so via play-offs against Switzerland, Norway and the Netherlands. Fourth place at Athens 2004, the Swedes are among the few teams that have a favourable history against the Americans in recent years. Since 2013 they have played the United States three times, winning one and drawing two including a 0-0 draw in the group stage of the 2015 World Cup; the only time the USA did not win during the tournament. The secret, perhaps, lies with the coach. Swede Pia Sundhage was in charge of the United States at Beijing 2008 and London 2012, and has now returned to coach her home country’s national team. “The Americans are very, very strong. They are the big favourites but they aren’t unbeatable. I don’t think anyone is,” Sundhage says. Sweden win final place in women’s football at Rio 2016 Sweden drew 0-0 with the United States in the 2015 World Cup.
5 – Brazil: carrying the hopes of 200 million Brazil is desperate for an Olympic gold medal in football and Rio 2016 may be the best chance for the country's women’s team. The side have available to them talents such as Cristiane, the top goalscorer at the Olympic Games with 12 goals since Athens 2004, and Marta, voted the world’s best player on five consecutive occasions between 2006 and 2010. Finishing Olympic runners-up twice in a row to the Americans (Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008) has been a bitter pill to swallow. The girls from Brazil are eager to show that playing with home support will make a vital difference. Don't bet against them. Will Brazil finally get their hands on that coveted Olympic gold medal? (Photo: Getty Images) Check out all of the games in the women’s football tournament at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.