US women's basketball team welcome favourites tag
The United States women's basketball team do not mind being among the biggest favourites to win gold at the London Olympics, according to coach Geno Auriemma.
His team had earlier flown into Manchester to prepare for a friendly with the host nation at the MEN Arena on Wednesday as they continue the build-up for what is expected to be a fifth consecutive Olympic gold medal.
The US women's team have won six of the last seven Olympics - only a unified team of former Soviet Republics broke their stranglehold with gold in 1992 - and the tag of favourites is one Auriemma carries with great ease.
"I've always thought that when people make you favourites, it's for a reason," he said. "It's because they think you have the best team, and if you have the best team you shouldn't worry about it, you just go out there and play.
"The bigger burden is when people say, 'I don't think you can win. I don't think you're good enough'. Then you have to go and surprise people. But I don't want any surprises. I don't like surprises."
Victory for a rapidly improving Britain team this week would be a surprise although given their recent results, including a 74-67 weekend victory over world number eight ranked France, the hosts have a new admirer in the American coach.
"We've not had the opportunity to see them play," he said.
"But everything I've read, everything I've heard about them says they're way, way better than they were.
"When I saw the score against France, I immediately reacted to it. France is probably one of the best five or six teams so to have success against them certainly bodes well for the future.
"We have a lot of work to do. We've only been together for a few days. Yesterday (we) played our first game in Washington DC against Brazil, and we were missing Sue Bird, our star point guard, she'll be back but not in time for tomorrow but we're okay. We just need time together to be game ready when the Olympics start."
Indeed, for all his caution, Auriemma need fear nobody in the field, with even perennial rivals Australia having apparently lost ground on the Americans in recent years.
The US coach, however, is still expecting a strong challenge from the Australians.
"I think it has been consistent, the US and Australia are the big rivals," he said. "I was an assistant in Sydney (at the Olympics) and it seems to have carried over the last 12 years.
"But then there's Russia, I saw them play in the European Championship and I've never seen them play better, also the Czech Republic have become really, really good and we had to play well to beat them in the world championship finals in 2010.
"The French team GB (Britain) just beat is a really, really good team and then GB have made great strides in a short amount of time. Basketball has grown, it's not just us and Australia any more.
"I'm not sure it has grown to the level the men have around the world but it's getting closer and it has only one game...
"So you only have to play really well on one night to upset somebody and, as long as that's the case, anything can happen."