Rio de Janeiro - A dominant United States team face stiff
competition from hosts Brazil for a fifth Olympic gold medal in six games when
the women's football tournament kicks off Rio 2016 on Wednesday.
The States' quest for a fourth consecutive gold begins
against New Zealand 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 3,000 kilometres away from Rio in the
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
"People expect us to win, we know what it actually
takes to win and that comes with a different level of accountability and
Also read: 4 Kenyan-born runners join Army, represent US at Rio Games
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
Brazil face a tough start at Rio's Olympic stadium on
Wednesday against China, who qualified at the expense of 2012 silver medallists
Japan and reached the World Cup quarter-finals in Canada last year.
Eccentric French coach Bruno Bini has aided the continued
rise of women's football in China and caused a stir on the eve of the
tournament by claiming that "Chinese women work harder and they complain
much less," than the French side he led to the 2011 World Cup semi-finals.
Chinese hopes will depend much on star striker Wang Shanshan
and she backed Bini's unconventional methods.
"Each day, he tells us something new. He usually
encourages us with a motto, a poem," Wang told FIFA.com.
"With his guidance the team unity is getting better and
the spirit is going up."
All 12 teams are in action on Wednesday as World Cup
quarter-finalists Canada and Australia face off in Sao Paulo.
Two-time world champions Germany take on Zimbabwe in the
other game in Group F.
The top two sides and two best third-placed teams from the
three groups will progress to the quarter-finals.For
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