On Wednesday morning at noon ET, the United States Women’s National Team will face France in both teams’ opening game of the 2012 London Olympics football tournament.
Ranked number six in the world, the French are no pushovers, and the USWNT will have little time to settle into the tournament before putting forth an all-out effort.
Here are five key battles to watch for.
The USWNT v. Themselves
Although the USWNT is certainly used to it, playing as the favorites of a tournament is never easy.
In the four Olympic games that included a women’s football tournament, the U.S. has won the gold medal three times and silver the other.
The United States will need to handle the pressure of those expectations and settle any first-game jitters in a hurry if it is to gain points from its matchup with France.
The USWNT v. Lyon
Of the 18 women rostered for the French National Team for the Olympic games, a staggering 11 play their club football for Olympique Lyon.
Lyon has won the Division 1 Feminine league in France for the last six consecutive seasons and won the UEFA Women’s Champions League for the last two seasons.
These women are used to success at the highest levels and the French National Team is one of the few teams in the world who will not be intimidated by the U.S.
The Midfield Battle
The last time these two teams met up, in the semifinals of the 2011 World Cup, the French dominated the midfield play.
Led by Captain Sandrine Soubeyrand and World Cup All-Tournament Team selection Louisa Necib, the French made it very difficult for the U.S. to get or keep the ball.
USWNT midfielders Lauren Cheney, Shannon Boxx, Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath will have to have a strong effort on both ends of the pitch if the U.S. wants to be successful on Wednesday.
Marie-Laure Delie v. The American Backline
Marie-Laure Delie will definitely be the woman to watch in the French attack as she is one of the most deadly strikers in the tournament.
Although she is only 24 years old, she already has 90 goals in 126 club appearances and 36 goals in 41 appearances for the French National Team.
Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan v. The French Defense
Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan have been on fire as of late, scoring a combined 24 goals in 12 games since being partnered together from the starting whistle.
Even more impressive is that they’ve done it against world-class competition having played Japan three times, Canada twice and Sweden twice over that stretch of games.
In France, the USWNT strike pair will face 2011 Women’s World Cup All-Tournament team members Sonia Bompastor and Laura Georges who will be keen to give Wambach and Morgan a challenge.
If the American strikers can keep up their red-hot form, the U.S. should be in for a good day.
John D. Halloran