More parity in the women’s game provides fierce competition for U.S. in World Cup

The Women’s World Cup is in full swing, and the U.S. pulled off a crucial 1-0 victory against Nigeria Tuesday night. With the win, they advances to the elimination round of the competition. Judy Woodruff speaks to USA Today columnist Nancy Armour about what’s next for the team.

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    The U.S. women's soccer team has advanced to the next round of play with a win last night against Nigeria. Veteran player Abby Wambach scored the only goal in a 1-0 win.

    Nancy Armour is covering the Cup for USA Today, and she brings us up to date on the challenges the U.S. team faces. She was in the stadium in Vancouver last night, and she joins me now.

    Nancy Armour, welcome.

    How big a surprise and how big a deal was this win last night?


    The win last night was huge, for a couple of different reasons. Number one is the confidence factor.

    You want to get out of your group with a win. You want to get out on top. You want to be considered one of the teams that is doing the best. But there is a logistical aspect to this, too. Had the U.S. finished second, they would have been looking at playing clear across the country to Moncton, which is in New Brunswick, to play Brazil, which is one of the other contenders for the title.

    Instead, they will play here in Edmonton. And they get an extra day of rest. Their game is not until Tuesday, whereas, if they had played in Moncton, they would have had to play Monday. So it was a very significant win for them.


    So, you mentioned — we mentioned the only — the goal was scored by Abby Wambach. There's a lot of talk going around about her, particularly about her age, at the ripe old age of 35.

    And yet you wrote today she's the greatest goal scorer to play the game.


    Well, she has more goals than anybody else in the game, male or female.

    And it always seems, you know, when the U.S. absolutely, positively needs a goal, she delivers. She did it in the World Cup four years ago, and she did it last night. She also had a couple other chances at scoring too, so I think we're kind of starting to see her come out of, if you wanted to call it a funk or a slump — I think we're starting to see her come out of that.


    What challenges lie ahead for this U.S. team?


    Well, the biggest thing is that the game has — the parity in the game has gotten — has just grown incredibly.

    You're seeing teams like Colombia, Cameroon, not the traditional powerhouses, that are doing well in this World Cup. And for the U.S., it is no longer about the fact that they have the better athletes, that they have more depth than anybody else. They have to play better. And there are no gimme games in this tournament anymore.

    And that's the one thing. They are aware of it, but have got to really play like that, especially starting now, because once the knockout rounds start, you lose, you go home.


    So what — who and what should fans be looking out for?


    Well, they will have the round of 16 game, which will probably be Colombia, next week, and then a semifinal — or quarterfinal game.

    They probably won't get their biggest test until the semifinals, but that could be a big one. That could be Germany, which is considered the other favorite for the title.


    There's also been talk about another player on the U.S. team, Hope Solo. How much of a controversy is that and how much bearing on how this team is doing?


    The team says that it's not affecting them at all, that this is something that they dealt with months ago, that they are not concerned about it.

    But there is a lot of public sentiment, people wanting to know why she is on the team and why U.S. soccer didn't do anything about it. And as the Americans continue to advance, I think there are going to be more people who are going to be asking that same question and wondering, why she is still on the field. Why does the NFL have a set of rules and other teams, other leagues don't have the same kind of — aren't taking it with the same kind of seriousness?


    And we should say there was an accusation of domestic abuse, and that remains to be resolved.

    Nancy Armour, at this point, how much are the FIFA scandals looming over this women's World Cup?


    Well, it's kind of ironic, because FIFA has always very dismissively treated the women's game. They're making the women play on turf during this World Cup, which would never happen for the men.

    And yet — so this is the first big tournament since the FIFA scandals broke. And it's the one chance that FIFA has to kind of improve its reputation and or improve its image with a great tournament. So, like I said, it's a little bit ironic that it is coming from the women that FIFA has basically brushed aside for decades, saying, oh, you know, we don't take you as seriously as we do the men.


    Well, I know you are watching, and we will be too.

    Nancy Armour with USA Today, we thank you.

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