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Olympic women soccer: US beat Greece 3-0
Updated: 2004-08-12 14:14

Mia Hamm began her final Olympics with a stutter-step that left her embarrassed Greek defender sprawling on the grass.

Hamm then calmly passed the ball to Shannon Boxx, who scored the goal that sent the US women's soccer team on its way to a comfortable 3-0 victory over Greece on Wednesday on the first day of competition in the 2004 Olympic Games.

Three other women's games were played Wednesday, including Germany's Group F 8-0 rout of China, which included four goals by German standout Birgit Prinz. Brazil beat Australia 1-0 in Group D, while Japan edged Sweden, the 2003 Women's World Cup champions, 1-0, in Group E.

Hamm later added a goal of her own, outmaneuvering two defenders for a 16-yard shot that banked off the left post. In between, Abby Wambach continued her remarkable scoring run with her 15th goal 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,'' Hamm said. "And now we have to refocus on what we need to do in a couple of days.''

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 Americans outshot their opponents 26-1, and Greece's lone shot was wide of the net. Briana Scurry got her 70th career shutout without having to make a save.

"What we have tried to do is make a decent appearance, and we do believe we have achieved that,'' Greek coach Xanthi

The U.S. team, looking to re-establish its supremacy after disappointing finishes in the 2000 Olympics and 2003 World Cup, continues first-round play Saturday against Brazil in the only Olympic sport that begins play before Friday's opening ceremony.

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.

Greece actually took the first shot of the game, but its players' adrenaline kept them competitive for only a few minutes. The Americans were soon dominating possession with crisp passes all over the field. Aly Wagner hit the crossbar in the fifth minute, and Boxx hit the right post two minutes later.

Then Hamm went to work on Angeliki Lagoumtzi, shaking the Greek defender completely off balance on the left flank. With Lagoumtzi on the ground, Hamm had a clear alley for her pass to Wambach or Boxx in the center of the penalty area. Wambach let the ball go between her legs, allowing to Boxx to nail the 12-yard shot to the left of goalkeeper Maria Giatrakis in the 14th minute.

Lagoumtzi, suitably humbled, pulled her shirt up to cover her face when she saw the ball go into the net.

"You know Mia -- she does that to us in practice,'' Boxx said. "I know how (Lagoumtzi) feels. I would be nervous seeing Mia running down at me one-on-one.''

But Lagoumtzi wasn't done. Lagoumtzi 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 countered quickly, with Kate Markgraf crossing to Wambach, who sent a header from 10 feet over Giatrakis in the 30th minute.

In the 82nd minute, Hamm stole the ball to set up a solo run for her 152nd goal in international play, by far the world record. She is one of the "Fab Five'' 1991 World Cup veterans who are playing in their final tournament together.

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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