London. US coach Pia Sundhage insists her team’s Olympic final victory over Japan is only the start of a golden era for the Americans which will peak with success at the 2015 World Cup.
Sundhage’s side avenged last year’s World Cup final defeat against Japan with a 2-1 win in the Olympic final at Wembley as two goals from Carli Lloyd and a superb display from US goalkeeper Hope Solo kept the Asians at bay.
It was a sweet moment for Sundhage’s players, who had been so devastated by their failure to win the World Cup for the first time since 1999.
But while many teams would see a gold medal as the defining moment of their careers, Swedish-born coach Sundhage is convinced the emergence of several talented youngsters suggests the best is yet to come.
As well as experienced campaigners like Lloyd, 30, Solo, 31, and captain Christie Rampone, 37, the United States relied on vibrant contributions from their younger members to win a fourth women’s football gold in the last five Olympics.
Alex Morgan, 23, Tobin Heath, 24, and Kelley O’Hara, 24, all started the final and weren’t overawed by the occasion, while Lauren Cheney, 25, and Sydney Leroux, 22, gave glimpses of their potential earlier in the tournament.
Sundhage is enthused by America’s golden generation and believes they can hit new heights at the next major tournament in women’s football — the 2015 World Cup in Canada.
“In 2015 there is a World Cup in Canada and I think the US could be unstoppable,” Sundhage said.
“We have young players like Tobin Heath who have come in and showed great composure and skill during this tournament.
“We always said the US had a great attitude and competed really well, but if you had technique it is very exciting when you look ahead to 2015.”
Not only did Sundhage’s squad bring home the gold yet again, they also earned a $1.5 million team bonus from the US Olympic Committee.
But it was their commitment to re-establishing their primacy after that heartbreaking World Cup final penalty shootout defeat against Japan which provided all the motivation they required at Wembley.
In front of an Olympic record crowd for women’s football of 80,203, the United States took an early lead through midfielder Lloyd’s header from Morgan’s cross.
Lloyd, who had scored the winner in the 2008 Olympic final against Brazil in Beijing, increased the lead with a sublime solo effort just after half-time.
But the United States, who were already indebted to Solo for two fine first-half stops, allowed Yuki Ogimi to get one back for Japan and set up a nerve-wracking finale.
Sundhage admitted Japan’s impressive play in possession had forced her players to change their game plan and produce some heroic defending to hold on.
“A lot of credit goes to Japan. Our game plan was to keep the ball away from them but that didn’t work and Japan were too good for us in possession until we changed,” she said.
While the United States can look forward to a lengthy victory tour on their return home, Japan coach Norio Sasaki faces an uncertain future.
Sasaki’s side would have been worthy winners, but he is out of contract in September and doesn’t yet know if he will be given a new deal by Japanese Football Association chiefs.
“I have a contract until September and I hope I have some involvement with women’s football, but it’s up to the Japanese Association,” Sasaki said.
“I wasn’t able to fulfill my ambition of winning gold, but I told the players they should be proud of themselves.”