U.S. women defeat Greece

Posted: Thursday, August 12, 2004

IRAKLION, Greece The goal was classic Mia. Her assist was even better and a lot more fun to watch.

Mia Hamm set up a first-half goal with a stutter step that left a Greek defender sprawled on the turf and covering her head in shame.

By the time Hamm scored on a solo run in the second half, the U.S. women's soccer team's 3-0 embarrassment of their hosts was complete, compounded by a mostly empty stadium at kickoff Wednesday on the first day of competition in the 2004 Olympic Games.

''You know Mia she does that to us in practice,'' teammate Shannon Boxx said of Hamm's faked-out opponent. ''I know how she feels I would be nervous seeing Mia running down at me one on one.''

The Americans completely dominated. Even though the Greeks took the first shot, it was also their last. The U.S. team went on to take 26 of their own, and Briana Scurry picked up her 70th career shutout.

Looking to re-establish their supremacy after disappointing finishes in the 2000 Olympics and 2003 World Cup, the Americans continue first-round play Saturday against Brazil.

In other women's games, Germany beat China 8-0; Brazil defeated Australia 1-0; and Japan beat Sweden 1-0. On the men's side, Argentina opened with a 6-0 win over Serbia-Montenegro; Tunisia tied Australia 1-1; Mexico and Mali played a scoreless tie; and the host Greeks tied South Korea 2-2.

Hamm's heroics began only moments into her final Olympic tournament. In the 14th minute, she put her stutter fake on Angeliki Lagoumtzi and took advantage of the clear alley to hit Boxx, who nailed a 12-yard shot to the left of goalkeeper.

Lagoumtzi, suitably humbled, pulled her shirt up to cover her face when she saw the ball go into the net. But Lagoumtzi's embarrassment wasn't over. She also played a key role in the Americans' second goal thanks to her jewelry.

Lagoumtzi was ordered to the sideline by the referee because she was wearing a necklace. While she was taking it off, the Americans exploited the temporary man-advantage and moved quickly, with Kate Markgraf crossing to Abby Wambach for a 10-foot-header over Maria Giatrakis in the 30th minute.

Hamm added a goal of her own in the 82nd minute, outmaneuvering two defenders for a 16-yard shot that banked off the left post. Wambach's goal continued a remarkable scoring run 15 goals in 16 games as the Americans overwhelmed a team that qualified for the tournament only because it represents the host nation.

''A 3-0 victory in our first game, you kind of get the butterflies out,'' said Hamm, who increased her world records tallies with her 152nd goal and 130th assist.

''For us to start off this tournament stroking the ball around, creating scoring chances and finishing three of them is a wonderful place for us to be,'' coach April Heinrichs added. ''It's one step getting our feet wet looking forward to the next game.''

The easy victory against the Greeks was expected. Women's soccer is barely recognized in Greece, and eight of the team's 18 players are Greek-Americans who have played for U.S. colleges.

The Greeks kept the score down with a bunker mentality, regularly keeping as many as eight players within 20 yards of the goal for most of the game.

''What we have tried to do is make a decent appearance, and we do believe we have achieved that,'' Greek coach Xanthi Konstandinidou said. ''The score could have been a lot worse.''

The lack of enthusiasm for women's soccer in Greece was evident in the disappointing crowd at kickoff in the seaside, fully renovated Pankrito Stadium on the island of Crete. More than two-thirds of the 27,000 seats were empty when the game began, although the cheaper end zone seats were nearing capacity in the second half, raising the announced attendance to 15,757. Sporadic chants of ''Greece! Greece!'' failed to rally the home team and overcome Hamm.

Hamm is playing so well that questions are bound to resurface as to why she would want to quit now, but she and teammates prefer to take the view that she simply wants to go out at the top of her game.

''We're going to let her have her fun and enjoy life,'' Boxx said. ''Without soccer.''



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