SYDNEY, Australia -- The U.S. men's soccer team won't march in the opening ceremony at the Summer Games. Instead, it will settle for taking a small step forward in its Olympics debut -- which is more than the hosts can say.
The Americans battled to a 2-2 tie Wednesday with the Czech Republic in a game where they nearly managed to pull out a victory. The U.S. team held a 2-1 lead and missed several scoring opportunities as the games kicked off 48 hours before Friday's official start.
But there was no good news for the 93,000 Olympic early birds packed into the Melbourne Cricket Ground. The home Australians lost 1-0 to Italy despite a rabid home crowd.
That defeat followed a similar fate for the Australian women's team, which went down 3-0 to Germany.
The soccer games came two days before the Olympics' opening ceremony, but the competition was already fierce. Chris Albright and Josh Wolff scored for the United States in a physical contest with the Czechs.
''We showed we're a solid team and created a lot of opportunities for ourselves,'' said Wolff. ''I think we matched them from the get-go and got in as hard on them as they did on us. We could have won, so we're a little disappointed.''
The Americans will stay in Canberra until Saturday's game with Cameroon, forcing the team to miss Friday's opening ceremony.
A half-dozen soccer games kicked off the Summer Games, with both men and woman taking the field for the first glimpse of the competition.
In other men's action, defending gold medalist Nigeria managed a 3-3 tie against Honduras, while Cameroon defeated Kuwait 3-2.
n FLAGBEARER: The honor of carrying the flag for the U.S. athletes at Friday's opening ceremony went to an obscure kayaker with an incredible story.
Cliff Meidl, who survived a 30,000-volt electrical shock in a 1986 construction accident, was selected as flagbearer Thursday by his teammates. Other candidates included Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong and soccer player Brandi Chastain.
''This is an incredible honor,'' the 34-year-old Meidl said. ''I am so proud and honored to be able to represent the USA and to lead the entire delegation into the stadium.''
Meidl, of Redondo Beach, Calif., was working a jackhammer when he cut through three unmarked high-voltage cables. The charge -- 15 times that of an electric chair -- blew him out of the hole, took off some of his toes, and cracked open his skull.
After 15 operations, Meidl took up kayaking to help his rehabilitation.
n WOMEN'S SOCCER: Earlier, with the Melbourne Cricket Ground nearly empty, the games began with the Brazilian women's soccer team defeating Sweden 2-0. The Australian women, the first of the home athletes in action at the Summer Games, lost 3-0 to Germany before a sellout crowd of 23,000 at Canberra's Bruce Stadium.
Not all of the fans saw the game's start, though, as heavy security caused long delays getting inside.
n DRUG TESTING: Three athletes -- a Taiwanese weightlifter, a Bulgarian triple and long jumper, and a swimmer from Kazakstan -- were kicked out of the games after positive drug tests.
Taiwanese weightlifter Chen Po-pu tested positive for ''prohibited drugs'' on Tuesday, Taiwan's Central News Agency reported. Officials immediately seized his athlete identification papers and arranged for his flight back to Taipei.
Bulgarian triple and long jumper Iva Prandzheva, the triple jump silver medalist at the 1995 world championships, was barred because of a positive test for nandrolone. Considered a medal contender in Sydney, Prandzheva already had been banned for two years after the 1996 Games following a positive doping test.
Swimmer Yevgeniya Yermakova of Kazakstan was dumped from the Olympics after testing positive for a drug masking agent. Yermakova tested positive for Furosemide, a diuretic, at a meet in Monte Carlo in May.
Meanwhile, the head of the White House drug policy office praised China for dropping more than 20 athletes from its Olympic team over failed drug tests.
''It's a tremendous demonstration of their seriousness of purpose of acting against doping in their own teams,'' Barry McCaffrey told The Associated Press shortly after arriving in Sydney. ''It's a terrific signal that they are committed.''
McCaffrey, part of the 10-member official U.S. delegation, delivered the same message in a letter to China's sports minister. The delegation also included first daughter Chelsea Clinton.
n GYMNASTICS: U.S. gymnast Stephen McCain might not take a gold medal, but his coach has already given the Olympian his ''badge of courage'' award.
McCain, who severely sprained his right ankle in training camp 10 days ago, returned to practice Wednesday and was expected to compete this weekend. The same was true of teammate John Roethlisberger, who has battled a strained left calf suffered at the Olympic trials last month.
''Stephen responded today with brilliance,'' U.S. coach Peter Kormann said. ''He gets the badge of courage award.''
n TRANSPORTATION: Ralph Kramden, where are you, mate?
Transportation woes at the Sydney Games mushroomed when dozens of drivers simply quit the Olympic bus service, citing lousy schedules and a lack of meal breaks.
A driver speaking on condition of anonymity told the Australian Associated Press that about 50 drivers stayed home from work Wednesday morning rather than spend another stressful day behind the wheel.
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