Women's football: World Cup agony is spurring USA on to treble success

America captain says desire to atone for final failure can inspire third straight gold

One of the most famous and successful teams in women's sport begin their Olympics today in Glasgow. The United States women's soccer team – known as the USWNT – are competing for their third consecutive Olympic gold medal. And they start against France at Hampden Park this afternoon.

At both Athens and Beijing, the USWNT triumphed over Brazil in extra time to take the gold medal. Those two victories speak of a unit with real competitive character as well as technical ability.

It should have been enough to bring glory in the women's World Cup last year in Germany; but a penalty shoot-out defeat by Japan in the final broke their hearts.

Now the USWNT are back, keen to reassert themselves and retain their title. "We have high standards," US midfielder Heather O'Reilly told The Independent. "We won gold in 2004, we won gold in 2008. But last year in the Women's World Cup we actually came home with silver and lost to Japan in the final of that. So I think that's what is keeping us hungry, like we have something to prove."

All good teams share a commitment to success and O'Reilly is proud to be part of a unit with this ethos. "But we do have high standards on this team and we like to look at it as if we wouldn't want it any other way," O'Reilly explained.

"We think that pressure is privilege. And we wouldn't want it to be any different than it is."

The desire to avenge that World Cup final defeat is clearly an extra motivator. In July 2011 the USWNT were nine minutes of normal time away from beating Japan, and then three minutes of extra time away, before losing 3-1 in a penalty shoot-out. "We know that as players we will never forget the feeling of losing a heartbreaking final," said O'Reilly. "But it's nice in a way that we didn't have much time to be sad about the World Cup. We took a couple of months at home and as soon as the new year came, 2012, we had a new goal and a new mission and that was to go to London and try to win it."

Although the USWNT start today in Glasgow, and play their second game against Colombia there too, their third match against North Korea is at Old Trafford. "As a Manchester United fan when I saw our group seeding and venues I was thrilled that we were guaranteed at least one game to play at Old Trafford," O'Reilly, who has already been to Old Trafford before as a supporter, revealed.

"It will be awesome for me and the players. It's such a great historic venue, we've grown up watching games on TV, and now being able to compete in those stadiums. It's going to be a thrill."

The chance to reach Wembley Stadium is hugely important. "That is the goal of course," O'Reilly said. "Athens is the true home of sport, with so much history and tradition behind Greek athletics, so that was cool. And then in Beijing the Chinese had planned that for decades as well, so it was just a complete spectacle.

"And now coming to London you just think about first-class facilities, first-class hospitality. And as a soccer player I'm just excited to play in a country whose first and foremost passion is football when it comes to sports. As a soccer player I'm thrilled."

While in London, O'Reilly hopes to visit the Kids Company charity, with which the US Olympic Committee has teamed up. Every medal the USA wins in London will lead to a contribution to the charity, which works with vulnerable young people.

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