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ATHENS OLYMPICS

Hamm Has Plenty Left

On the verge of retirement, the longtime star has a goal and an assist to spark the American women over Greece, 3-0.

August 12, 2004|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

HERAKLION, Greece — Fifteen days, that's all that is left now.

Mia Hamm isn't counting them yet, there's still too much to do, but she knows that in only a couple of weeks she will step off the soccer field for the final time, ending a spectacular 17-year international career.

If it all works out for the best, she will retire Aug. 26 with another gold medal draped around her neck.

Not surprisingly, Hamm is determined that it all will work out for the best.

On a warm Wednesday evening on the island of Crete, in front of 15,757 in refurbished Pankritio Stadium on the edge of the Mediterranean, she got the United States off to a promising start at the Olympic Games by scoring one goal and assisting on another as the U.S. strolled past Greece, 3-0.

In a game that seldom rose to any great heights, Hamm was the one player who stood out. It wasn't her finest performance by a long shot, but it was good enough.

After Aly Wagner had rattled the crossbar with a shot in the fourth minute and Shannon Boxx had clanged another shot into the right post four minutes later, it was Hamm who unlocked the packed Greek defense in the 14th minute.

The unfortunate victim of her dribbling skills was Greek midfielder Angeliki Lagoumtzi, whom Hamm left sitting in a heap on the turf after a this-way-that-way move that put her in the clear on the left flank.

Hamm crossed the ball perfectly into the middle, forward Abby Wambach let it roll past her to Boxx, and the Redondo Beach midfielder slammed a shot past goalkeeper Maria Giatrakis from about 14 yards.

Greece, which started seven of the eight Greek American players on its roster, was outmatched from the start, and even the chants of "Hellas, Hellas" from the fans did little to lift its game.

Wambach scored the second goal 29 minutes 43 seconds into the match, looping a header over the outstretched arms of goalkeeper Giatrakis -- who spells her name Yatrakis at the University of Connecticut -- after a pinpoint cross from the left by defender Kate Markgraf.

Giatrakis is only 5 feet 5, and, despite being nimble and brave, had a difficult time with the taller, more powerful American players.

She did all she could to stop Hamm's goal at the 81:05 mark, flinging herself to her right but getting only her fingertips to the ball, which went in off the left post.

This time it was defender Konstantina Katsaiti who was burned by Hamm, who described the goal this way:

"I was setting it up to go outside, but the girl [Katsaiti] was playing me inside to her covering player [Lagoumtzi]. So I was able to stop it, and I saw a window to bend it around her and hopefully around the goalkeeper. The goalkeeper got a slight touch to it, but I kept it on the frame enough to where, whether she saw it late or not, I was able to sneak it in."

Despite the victory, Hamm, like her teammates, was not overjoyed by the U.S. performance. Still, it was an acceptable result against an unfamiliar opponent.

"I had never seen Greece play," Hamm said. "We couldn't see the video because the quality wasn't great, so this was our first time, and you're nervous because of the game and you don't know what to expect.

"I think once we got settled in we did some good things."

Midfielder Kristine Lilly echoed the sentiment.

"You look at the positives," she said. "Maybe we didn't play our best game, we didn't, but it's the first game."

World champion Germany also played its first game Wednesday night and routed China, a much stronger foe than Greece, 8-0, a result that caused a nervous buzz in the U.S. camp.

"Germany is a great team," Hamm said. "We expect nothing but great things from them. They're a disciplined team. They're an exciting team to watch. They're a difficult team to play against.

"But our focus right now is on getting through this group, and our next task is Brazil [on Saturday in Thessaloniki]. I'm sure the German players feel the same way about their group. We can't start thinking past any one game or we're going to be in a lot of trouble."

Boxx explained Wednesday's showing another way.

"We want to excite the crowd," she said. "We want to make it fun to watch. But you know what? We're here for a gold and we got three points and we got the win. It would have been great if we had got the crowd [excited], but we got the job done."

*

Germany 8, China 0 -- Birgit Prinz scored twice in the first half and twice in the second half, and Germany scored six goals in the second half in a Group F game at Patras.

Japan 1, Sweden 0 -- Eriko Arakawa rolled the ball into an empty net in the 25th minute after a fumble by goalkeeper Caroline Jonsson to register a Group E upset at Volos.

Brazil 1, Australia 0 -- Marta scored in the 36th minute of a Group G game at Thessaloniki.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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