The U.S. Women's National Soccer team advanced to the World Cup final after beating France, 3-1, on Wednesday. Now, they'll play Japan for the championship on Sunday. The last time the U.S. won the title was in 1999.
National Soccer Hall of Famer Michelle Akers, who played on the 1999 team and the one that won the Women's World Cup in 1991, said on "The Early Show" Thursday that the current team's efforts show determination akin to what her teams had.
She told "Early Show" co-anchor Chris Wragge, "This team, it's fun to watch, because they've got the guts and that heart and that grit, you know, (to) grind it out and do whatever it takes to win."
Akers said the current players are exciting to watch, and joked that the team's play has been giving her heart attacks. The game with France, in particular, Akers, said, kept her glued to her TV.
"I'm not one who can just sit and watch TV or sports for very long, but I was watching; the U.S. played great," she said. "They were intense and focused, and they played that way for the whole 90 (minutes)."
When asked about the quarterfinals game with Brazil, in which the U.S. was down 2-1 in overtime, Akers said, "Oh, boy!"
She continued, "I was starting to think, 'I'm going to have to watch the Brazilians celebrate. I can't take it.' I was going to go outside, and pout about losing, and then I heard the score ... and I was like, 'Yes!' So I came back in and I was so happy I didn't leave."
In the final stretch of the game, American forward Abby Wambach fired a ball off her head into the goal to tie the score, giving hope back to the team in the match-up's final moments. Though the game was decided by penalty kicks, and American goalkeeper Hope Solo's blocked a Brazilian kick for the win, Wambach's play has been pointed to as a big deciding factor in the team's success.
Akers called Wambach's play "huge," adding, "Even if she doesn't get the ball, she takes a couple players out of the game for the defense on the other team, so that leaves her teammates open. But she's been scoring the clutch goals and, you know, the last one in the quarterfinals is a beautiful serve, and then you know, off her head into the goal. She's been playing great."
But can Wambach and the team pull it off -- especially with all the waiting until Sunday?
Recalling her championships, Akers said of the waiting game, "I think it's more like, 'Well, the hay is in the barn and we're here just to play soccer and we've done everything we can to be the best team and we're going to go out there and do it,' and that should be their focus and that was our focus. So I never really got nervous. I was just like, 'Come on, bring it! Let's play. I'm ready."'
Though soccer isn't always watched closely in the U.S., when American teams reach the finals, it's a big and inspiring moment for the country, and especially, for the country's next generation of female soccer stars, Wragge observed.
Akers remarked, "(The championship's) huge. The team I played for, we won two World Cups and an Olympics, and we got a good start for this team. So they're standing on our shoulders, and now they're continuing that legacy with, hopefully, another world championship. So, it really says a lot about the American players, the American mentality and what we're capable of here in the U.S. So hopefully, that sparks a lot of dreams for all these other little kids that are watching this team win and play well."