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Quote-Sheet: Pia Sundhage Previews Olympic Opener, Just One Week Away

U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage:

On spending a few days in Beijing before heading to the game venue of Qinhuangdao:
“I think we had such a good time in Beijing. You have to have time to adjust (to the time difference). Instead of spending time at the same place, we were there for three days and then came to Qinhuangdao. Our weightlifting was good and our first practice was ok, but it’s hard (to adjust quickly). But I can feel the atmosphere. I am surrounded by happy people. That is a good, I enjoy it. When you are closer to the game, the focus will change, but I do think it’s important at the same time to have a relaxed feeling. When the referee blows her whistle, it is important to be focused, but up until that time, there are moments where you need to be relaxed.”

On facing Norway in the first match:
“Playing any team in the Olympics is a tough game. Norway is up there in the rankings and they are a really good team. It’s so important to take one game at a time, even though we want to win every game up to the final and win that game as well, but we look at the game in front of us and prepare for that game. It’s important to focus on what is happening today.”

On if Norway is the toughest game in the group:
“If you look at the ranking, you would say yes, however, this is the Olympics and you never know what is going to happen. The good part about this group is that we play against three different kinds of opponents, three different cultures, and I love that. It’s challenging. The first game is always a little bit difficult, regardless of who you are playing, but that’s a fun part of the tournament.”

On if the players are extra motivated to win another gold medal after 2004:
“You don’t have to motivate these players. They are on top of everything and they are ready to go. You will enjoy it whether you’ve been in the Olympics before or not. We will play against Norway and do our very best.”

On losing Abby Wambach a few days before the USA left for China:
“As you know, she is a great player. It’s like Brazil losing Marta or Germany losing (Birgit) Prinz. However, when I started here in December we talked about the team. And I’ve said it many times in many different ways, it’s not about one player or one coach, it’s about the team. So the way we’ve prepared for the Olympics, it’s a little bit easier to adjust. We will adjust the attack because Abby is not here and of course she is a great presence, but I think the team has to respond. We are well prepared even thought we don’t have Abby Wambach. There is a great spirit in this team and everyone is looking forward to the games.”

“I think everyone will step up a little bit, that counts for the players and coaching staff. It would be foolish just to move on and not recognize she’s gone. But at the same time, we can’t put too much emphasis on Abby Wambach, even though she is a star. We will put the emphasis on the team.”

On who might replace Wambach in the lineup:
“You have A-Rod (Amy Rodriguez), she offers us speed and has done a great job coming off the bench. (Natasha) Kai is fantastic in many ways. She’s different and she’s unpredictable and very good in the air. (Lauren) Cheney, she has the size, she can keep the ball and stretch out the team a little bit. The best thing with (Angela) Hucles is that she’s very versatile. I’ve been impressed with the way she has been playing in the midfield wide, central. She has the tools. She can play anywhere actually.”

On what to expect from Norway:
“The organization and the counter-attacks are very good. Ingrid Stensland is an important player for their team, but I prefer to look at us facing the team Norway. We need to be careful with their counter-attacks and we need to be unpredictable to break down their defense.”

On the three teams in the USA’s group:
“It will be very interesting to play different cultures. Norway counter-attacks and is strong on set pieces. Japan is very skillful and fast with great technique, and they find combinations, so we have to stay sharp in defending. New Zealand is waiting for a big goal in a big tournament so they have big motivation and that is dangerous. They are well organized, a little bit of an English style.”

On returning to China as serving as an assistant coach for China in 2007:
“The U.S. team has been in China many times. The last time was in January, we played a tournament, but for me personally, I lived here for five or sixth months and experienced the culture. It’s great to be back. It’s a pleasure to come back as a head coach for the U.S. team.”

On how China might do in the Olympics:
“They have a Chinese coach now and I think they have adjusted to that coach. The expectations are high, and they have the 12th player in the crowd. They have a fantastic crowd and here in the Olympics it will be very hard to beat China.”

On being a head coach in her first world championship event after playing in two and scouting for teams in several others:
“It’s easy for me to enjoy every single minute because I’ve been in many different situations as a coach and player. I’ve coached Sweden youth national teams, club teams in Sweden, Norway and the USA, so I’ve done many things. But the fact that after all these years I’ve got the chance to coach one of the best teams in the world … it’s hard to explain, it’s almost unreal, but here I am and I will enjoy every minute.”