DRESDEN, Germany The U.S. is the No. 1 team in the world, a two-time World Cup champion and three-time Olympic gold medalist.
However, the only number that matters right now is zero. As in, the number of World Cups the current team has won.
I take it personally that I havent won one, and Ill be heartbroken if we walk away without one, Abby Wambach said Saturday.
The Americans better get it in gear then. After losing a group stage match for the first time at the World Cup, they must play old foe Brazil in the quarterfinals Sunday. Its a matchup most had penciled in for next weekends final. Lose, and not only will the Americans be going home empty-handed again, it will be their earliest exit at the World Cup, a tournament they last won in 1999.
The United States is the only team thats made the semifinals at each of the previous five World Cups.
We have the confidence and the faith in each other as a team. We believe that if we do this together, we can beat anybody, Wambach said. We have our hands full. But I still believe, in the end, we have the best chance of winning.
History would seem to back that up. Go back more than a decade, to the Algarve Cup in the spring of 2001, to find the last time the United States lost back-to-back games. Its been more than four years since the Americans failed to win consecutive games.
Yet the U.S. has been uncharacteristically inconsistent of late, losing four games since November alone.
The Americans dont do losses. They usually go years without a single one like the two year-plus unbeaten streak they had before being stunned by Mexico in regional qualifying.
It doesnt matter if the U.S. has had some bad results in the last six months, said Marta, Brazils dazzling playmaker. Its Brazil-U.S., a big game. Its special.
Just like its mens team, Brazils roster is loaded with spectacular players. Marta, the FIFA player of the year five times running, is so gifted with the ball it looks as if shes got it on a string, creating goals out of thin air. Cristiane has scored twice so far, once on a penalty kick. Brazils unique 3-5-2 formation presents all kinds of challenges.
For all their star power, the Brazilians never have won the title at a major tournament. They lost to the Americans in the last two Olympic finals and were runners-up to Germany at the 2007 World Cup.
Their track record against the Americans is less than impressive. The U.S. is 23-2-2 all-time against Brazil, with only one loss since January 1998. All but four of those matches since 1998 were shutouts, and Brazil managed a grand total of eight goals.
Those defeats dont matter, Brazil coach Kleiton Lima said through a translator. They rise up with this experience. They are much better in this moment.
Much has been made about the teams last meeting at the World Cup. Brazils 4-0 rout in the semifinals was the worst defeat in U.S. history and led to a meltdown worthy of a soap opera. Goalkeeper Hope Solo blasted then-coach Greg Ryans decision to bench her against Brazil despite three consecutive shutouts, and Ryan responded by kicking Solo off the team. Less than a month later, Ryan essentially was fired.
Since then, the Americans have won the teams last four meetings, shutting the Brazilians out each time. Solos save on Martas point-blank shot in the 72nd minute of the 2008 Olympic final was stunning, and a must-see for every goalkeeper.
Brazil, they have so much to prove. They have the best player in the world but have yet to win a major championship, Solo said. Do I think Martas time will come? Certainly. She deserves that. With that said, I do think we overall have the team to win it.
Our structure, our defense, our midfield, the fact that we have now implemented an ability to be creative on the attack, I think were the better team. But its all about executing it on game day.
The Americans biggest weakness in this tournament has been finishing. They had a whopping 20-9 advantage in shots against Sweden, including a 6-5 edge in shots on goal, and still couldnt get the equalizer. They missed numerous other chances in the first two games.
Brazil is the only team that has yet to concede a goal, and the Americans know they cant afford to squander chances against the stingy Erika, Rosana and the like. They are convinced, as they have been all tournament, that this next game is when things turn around.
Were fit, were strong, and we dont give up, Carli Lloyd said. Thats one of greatest things we have about this team. Weve been doing some really good things, creating a lot of chances, and I think the goals are going to come.
If not, the Americans know theyll have let a golden opportunity pass and not just to win a title.
The World Cup in Germany has been an overwhelming success. Several games, including the quarterfinal Sunday, have been sold out, and the Americans are all over TV back home. But that interest is likely to drop off in a hurry if the Americans go home early.
We want to prove to the pioneers of the game in our country ... that their efforts were worth it, Wambach said. Were participating in something thats huge. Very few times does the spotlight shine so bright on womens soccer, and we want to prove to everybody around the world that we have a product and that product is worth watching.