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USA - Proud history to defend

The United States women's national team is the most decorated program in the history of women's soccer, having captured two of the four World Cups contested before this year's tournament in China and two of the three Olympic gold medals awarded to the sport.

The United States played its first game on Aug. 18, 1985, losing 1-0 to Italy in Jesolo, Italy. Overall, the national team posted just a 14-12-5 record through its first five years of competition, playing just seven domestic games.

The tide turned after capturing the inaugural World Cup in 1991. Playing in China, the American side under coach Anson Dorrance outscored opponents 23-4 to reach the final against Norway, a team that had defeated the United States twice on American soil in the months leading up to the World Cup. But on the strength of two goals from Michelle Akers, who scored 10 times in the team's six games, the U.S. pulled out a 2-1 win.

Along with a generation of stars that included Akers, April Heinrichs, Carin Jennings, Carla Werden and Joy Biefeld, a 20-year-old Kristine Lilly started five of the team's six games, beginning a run that will see her become the only U.S. player to appear in five World Cups.

Playing close to home in Sweden four years later, Norway gained some measure of revenge by beating the United States in the semifinals of the 1995 World Cup on its way to a championship. Coach Tony DiCicco's team bounced back the following year, winning the sport's first gold medal during the Olympics in the Atlanta.

The national team's defining moment, and one from which's shadow the current team continues to labor, came during the 1999 World Cup in the United States. The famous image of Brandi Chastain celebrating the winning kick in a penalty shootout against China in a final played in front of more than 90,000 fans in the Rose Bowl capped off a wildly successful tournament that catapulted players like Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Briana Scurry, Chastain and Lilly into the national spotlight.

But while the United States has been the world's top team throughout much of its tenure, the fact that it has always been a fine line between success and failure was reinforced when a team with nine of the players who had been on the field in the Rose Bowl fell short in the 2000 Olympics, losing 3-2 against old foe Norway in the final.

Three years later the United States found itself without a major international title for the first time after losing 3-0 against Germany in the semifinals of the 2003 World Cup, an event moved to the United States after originally being awarded to China.

Playing alongside members of the new generation of players who will help lead the team in the 2007 World Cup, including Abby Wambach, Lindsay Tarpley and Shannon Boxx, a core of older players in Hamm, Foudy, Chastain and Joy Fawcett (formerly Biefeld) went out on top with a gold medal in the 2004 Olympics, beating Brazil 2-1 in the final.