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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS | SOCCER

Women

July 14, 1996|MIKE PENNER

The Brazil team appears to be the elite unit in the men's competition. For the women, who are competing in the Olympics for the first time, the Americans are the team to beat.

WHAT WE KNOW

Eight countries will participate in the first Olympic women's soccer tournament, but it will be a substantial upset if anyone but the hosts win.

The U.S. is to women's soccer what Brazil is to the men's game. The Americans won the first women's World Cup in 1991 and were expected to repeat in 1995, but injuries to Michelle Akers, women's soccer's all-time leading goal scorer, and Carin Gabarra, MVP of the '91 World Cup, left the United States vulnerable in the semifinals against archrival Norway. Norway won, 1-0, and went on to beat Germany, 2-0, in the final.

Akers and Gabarra are back in the lineup, rejoining a pressing, fast-breaking team that is 17-1-1 in 1996, taking a 13-game winning streak into its Olympic opener against Denmark.

Norway, which has reached the final of both women's World Cups, and 1995 European champion Germany should take the silver and bronze. China (fourth in the '95 World Cup), Japan, Brazil, Sweden and Denmark complete the field.

WHAT WE DON'T KNOW

How are three Scandinavian teams and another from Germany going to cope with 102-degree heat and 90% humidity? Welcome to the American South, y'all, and don't forget to bring the IVs.

Knowing how to deal with the heat gives the U.S. one more advantage. Brazil is also accustomed to playing 90-minute matches in sweltering conditions, but unlike in the men's field, the Brazilians are longshots here. Brazil placed ninth in both women's World Cups.

SOMEONE YOU SHOULD KNOW

Best women's soccer player in the world? Flip a coin between American forward Mia Hamm, U.S. Soccer's Female Athlete of the Year in 1994 and '95, and Norwegian midfielder Hege Riise, the most outstanding player of the '95 World Cup.

Hamm led the U.S. in scoring last year with a near-even split of goals (19) and assists (18), and led all players with six assists at the '95 World Cup, where she played forward, midfield and even goalie. A two-time winner of the Hermann Trophy, awarded annually to the best male and female college soccer players in the nation, she began her international career at age 15 in 1987--making Hamm the youngest woman to play for the U.S.

Riise, Norway's tiny playmaker, debunks the all-long ball, no-skills Norwegian stereotype. Riise's dribbling, finishing and free-kick skills earned her a vote in the 1995 FIFA world player of the year balloting from Norway's men's coach, Egil Olsen.

SOMETHING YOU SHOULD KNOW

Unlike the men, there is no age restrictions in the women's Olympic soccer tournament. Two of Norway's top players, forward Linda Medalen and midfielder Heidi Store, are 33 and 31, respectively.

Soccer

Referee:

He is in sole charge of the match and has final say in all decisions on the field of play. He also keeps the official time.

Referee Signals: Penalty kick, Direct free kick, Indirect free kick, Corner kick, Goal kick, Warning or expulsion.

Game Time:

Games consist of 45-minute halves, with time added for issuance of penalties. Ties cab occur in first-round matches, but after that the outcome is decided first by a 30-minute overtime, then by penalty kicks.

Goalkeeper:

The goalkeeper is the only player allowed to use his hands, and than only within the goal area. He is allowed to punt or throw the ball after gaining possession but cannot carry the ball for more than four steps.

Linesmen:

They assist the referee. They are positioned on each sideline and are primarily responsible for making offside calls and signaling when the ball is out of play.

An Olympic First: Linesmen will carry wireless transmitters to help them keep in contact with the referee.

Throw-in:

The ball is returned to play from the point it crosses a sideline by a two-handed overhead throw with both feet on the ground.

Equipment:

Shin guard: Players are required to wear a protective pad inside their socks to prevent serious injury to their shins from tackles or errant kicks.

Cleats: Different types and lengths of studs are used on the soles of the shoes depending on the field condition.

At a Glance

Number of athletes: 288 men (16 teams of 180, 128 women (eight teams of 16).

Changes since Barcelona: Added women's competition.

Qualifications: Women qualify based on results of 1995 World Cup. Men Qualify based on selected tournaments.

Dates: July 20 to Aug.3.

Location: Stadiums in Georgia, Florida, Alabama and semifinals at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga.

Sources: Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, Times staff, Associated Press, Reuters

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