August 3, 2016
Here's how the American women have fared in the five previous Olympic opening matches since 1996
SHOWING WHY SHE’S THE BEST
|Mia Hamm had a memorable Olympic opener at the Athens Summer Games in 1996.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
1996: Hamm scores once, set up another as Americans take opener over Denmark, 2-0
By Michael Lewis
ORLANDO -- There are few players who can determine the course of a soccer game by scoring or creating a goal. Pele, of course, comes to mind. More recently, Diego Maradona certainly had his incredible brilliance.
Then there's Mia Hamm, the U.S. women's national team forward who was the force behind the Americans' 3-0 victory over Denmark July 21. The women's team hoped that the win would be the start of a five-game journey to win the very first gold medal in their sport at the Summer Olympics.
"I am sure we saw one of the best teams in the competition," Danish coach Keld Gantzhorn said. "I am sure they will reach the final."
The other team that also is expected to reach the final in Athens, Ga. on Aug. 1, defending world champion Norway, the U.S.'s No. 1 nemesis, suffered the first upset of the tournament July 21, setting for a 2-2 tie on a last-minute goal by lowly rated Brazil.
"Really?" U.S. striker Michelle Akers said when told of the result. "I'm surprised."
There was nothing surprising about Hamm's performance in a game played in 102-degree field temperatures.
Since joining the national team as a 15-year-old in 1987, Hamm has been nothing short of magnificent. In her 116 international appearances, the 5-5, 125-lb. Hamm has been good for about a goal a game, scoring 62 and setting up another 49. By the time she calls it a career, Hamm could have more than 200 appearances, which would be a world's record.
The real scary thing about the Chapel Hill, N.C. native is her work rate -- she constantly ball hawks opposing defenders and comes back to play defense -- and her versatility. Hamm can play any position on the field -- she also is the team's emergency third-string goalkeeper -- although Hamm's greatest contribution is spearheading the attack. That she demonstrated with a goal and an assist before 25,303 at the Citrus Bowl, the largest crowd to watch the women's team in the U.S.
"Every time she got the ball she was dangerous," U.S. coach Tony DiCicco said. "She forced them to adapt to her. She was the key player for us. We weren't getting the ball forward. Mia took the game over and got the team into the penalty area."
Akers, who knows something or two about scoring goals, agreed. "When Mia's out there, she has to be stopped," she said. "She's a force. She's powerful. She's dangerous. I'm glad she's on my team."
Hamm, 24, had nothing to do directly with the first U.S. goal, a fine 18-yard volley by Tisha Venturini off a Brandi Chastain throw-in in the 36th minute. Until then, the U.S. had dominated the game and had done everything but score.
"It does so much for your confidence after you don't score after having so many opportunities," Hamm said. "It's easy to get frustrated."
Four minutes later Hamm went to work, taking a header from Akers and bursting into the penalty area to beat goalkeeper Dorthe Larsen from 12 yards.
"We made a little mistake and she said thank you and scored," Gantzhorn said.
Four minutes into the second half, Hamm put a couple of moves on two Danish defenders on the right side of the penalty area, twisting past them to shuffle a short pass from the right side to Tiffeny Milbrett, who tucked it in from eight yards.
"I think I stumbled a couple of times," Hamm said. "I didn't have time to look up. Everyone's committed in getting into the box. Tiff was there.
"It's the goal that put them over the edge."
The Danes had only a handful of opportunities, and most of them weren't extremely dangerous. In fact, they didn't penetrate into the Americans' penalty area until the 34th minute, when goalkeeper Brian Scurry smothered the ball to stop Gitte Krogh on a breakaway into the penalty area with the game still scoreless.
"It's very important scoring the first goal against the U.S. team," Gantzhorn said. "If we get the first goal, then we have an opportunity to win."
The United States will have another opportunity to win -- and clinch a spot in the semifinals on July 23 when they play Sweden here.
GETTING OFF ON THE RIGHT FOOT
2000: USA records emphatic 2-0 win over Norway
By MICHAEL LEWIS
MELBOURNE -- When the U.S. and Norway lock horns in women's soccer, their confrontation usually turns into a battle for the ages.
Then there's last night's stunning result, an emphatic 2-0 American victory that doesn't even come close to telling the domination by the defending Olympic and world champions.
"I told the team that it was the best performance against the best opponent in the opening round of any major world championship," Heinrichs said. "I also reminded them it's not where you start, it's where you finish."
The finish line is Sept. 28, the date of the gold-medal match. The U.S. took a major step in reaching their goal with another crucial first-round encounter against another archrival, China, here on Sunday. A tie would virtually assure the Americans passage to the semifinals.
"I haven't had time to think about China," Heinrichs said. "Our sole focus for the last month was Norway, Norway, Norway."
Last night the Americans came out as though the gold medal was on the line against the only team that enjoys a winning record against them (14-13-2). They gave Norway little room and attacked from the opening whistle, as Tiffeny Milbrett and Mia Hamm found the back of the net within a six-minute span in the opening half.
Ironically, it will be the shots that Milbrett didn't convert that will be remembered the most. The 5-2 dynamo, who ran circles around the taller and slower Norwegians defense, hit the right post, the left post and the crossbar to finish a most unusual hat-trick before a crowd of 16,043 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
"Tiffeny Milbrett had a phenomenal performance for 90 minutes," Heinrichs said of the forward who will play for the New York/New Jersey team in the Women's United Soccer Association next year. "She causes havoc. I never know what Tiffeny Milbrett is going to do with the ball."
Norway coach Per-Mathis Hagmo, on the other hand, doesn't know what he's going to do with his team after this embarrassing performance and result.
"We were lucky today we didn't lose by more," he said. "The United States had seven or eight chances. We created maybe one. I'm very disappointed."
Milbrett could have been disappointed that she had only one goal to show for her outstanding performance. "I was just happy I got that one on goal," she said.
That came in the 18th minute. U.S. goalkeeper Siri Mullinix was forced to come out of the box to boot the ball away from a charging Norwegian forward. The ball found Milbrett, who slipped between two defenders on the right side. She fired a 12-yard shot that keeper Bente Nordby managed to knock away back to Milbrett, who scored from a sharp angle from six yards.
Hamm, the all-time leading women's goal-scorer who has a history of underachieving at the Women's World Cup and Olympics, got into the act six minutes later, connecting from eight yards off a Kristine Lilly chip pass.
"After that our team looked very nervous," Hagmo said. "We were never able to play our game."
GOOD, BUT NOT GREAT
2004: U.S. women win Olympic opener, 3-0
By Michael Lewis
Heraklion, Greece -- Just consider it a warm-up for much greater challenges to come.
The U.S. women recorded a relatively easy 3-0 victory over Greece on Wednesday, Aug. 6 which as a workmanlike performance as they kicked off the Olympic soccer tournament. The Americans accomplished what they had to do, virtually qualifying for the quarterfinals in this 10-team tournament.
Yet, they lacked what the team has become well-known for – playing with flair and creativity.
The Americans dominated from the opening kickoff to the final whistle as the Olympic soccer tournament began two days before Friday’s opening ceremonies. But despite enjoying an incredible 28-1 shot advantage, they could not finish more opportunities.
"We're happy with our performance," said forward Abby Wambach, who scored in the 30th minute. "It's not our best performance by any stretch, but it's the first game of the Olympics and we had to get the kinks out."
Some of the credit must go to the defensive-minded hosts, who included eight Greek-Americans playing in their first Olympic match before a crowd of 16,000 at Pankritio Stadium. The Greeks played a conservative game, using essentially one forward and having as many as seven players in the penalty area to defend. It worked by keeping the score down, but the hosts couldn't take advantage of many counterattacks because there usually was no one to help support the ball handler in the U.S. end.
"We played against an organized bunker," said forward Mia Hamm, who scored a marvelous goal in the 82nd minute. "To break open a bunker, everything has to be clicking."
So, exactly what wasn't clicking?
"We got behind them really well and we possessed the ball very well,” Hamm said. “It's just that final pass.”
The Americans were reminded how difficult things might be down the road when news of world champion Germany’s surprising 8-0 pasting of former world power China reached them as they were leaving the stadium.
U.S. captain Julie Foudy was stunned when she was told the result.
"Get out of here.
"Oh my God.
If everything goes according to plan for both sides, the Americans will play the Germans in the semifinals here on Aug. 23.
But before that crucial confrontation, the U.S. has enough on its table three matches in Thessaloniki with Brazil looming on Saturday, Australia on Tuesday, Aug. 17 and quarterfinal match a week from Friday on Aug. 20.
"We don't want to start thinking about only one game or we're going to be in a lot of trouble," Hamm said.
On Wednesday, it was Greece that wound up in a lot of trouble. After dodging several bullets in the early going, the Greeks' hopes of an upset ended in the 14th minute when former New York Power midfielder Shannon Boxx continued her ascent on the world stage with her 11th international goal as she fired home a Hamm left-wing cross from 12 yards.
The U.S. gave itself some breathing room in the 30th minute as overlapping defender Kate Markgraf sent a left-wing pass to Wambach. The 5-11 forward then lofted an eight-yard header over Brooklyn resident Maria Yatrakis, who stretched her 5-5 frame in vain to stop the shot. Wambach, who starred at last year's Women's World Cup, collected her 29th international score and her 15th goal in her last 16 matches.
Hamm closed out the scoring with her world-record 152nd international goal, faking out two defenders before placing a 15-yard shot off the left post and into the net.
"Outstanding," coach April Heinrichs said. "Quintessential Mia."
As pretty as the goal was, there were not enough of those plays.
"It's a tough first match," Foudy said. "They were playing with a lot of emotion. We did a good job of not giving them any momentum."
Still, Heinrichs walked away satisfied.
"First game of the Olympics," she said. "Three points. Three goals. No goals against. Everybody gets a lot of touches on the ball."
But not enough goal production.
"I respect the game enough to know that you can play well and get a lot of shots on the frame and come up with a 1-0 or 2-0 win,” Heinrichs said. “Or you can play games where you take 10 shots and five go into the back of the net.
"You just never know in soccer."
2008: Early goals sink embarrassed U.S. women in Olympic opener in 2-0 loss to Norway
By Michael Lewis
QINHUANGDAO, China -- The Olympic Games are supposed to be about superlatives, record-breaking and celebrations.
That usually goes double for the U.S. Women's National Team.
But for defending gold-medal winners, it wasn't about any of that. It was about hitting bottom because they could not have picked a worse time to play their worst game ever in the soccer tournament Wednesday night, Aug. 6.
Unfancied Norway inflicted the setback on the stunned U.S., taking advantage of a faulty defense that was supposed to be the rock of this injury-riddled team.
The Americans tasted defeat for only the second time in four Olympics, also losing to the Norwegians in the gold-medal match at the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, 3-2. Now there are serious questions as to whether the U.S. can reach the medal round, let alone vie for a gold again.
So, the U.S. faces a must-win situation in its next two games to reach the quarterfinals or go home humiliated, an unthinkable achievement in American soccer circles. It would be the equivalent of Brazil failing to reach the second round in the World Cup. The Americans meet Japan here Saturday and New Zealand in Shenyang Tuesday in final two Group G matches.
"We have to win our next two games," captain and defender Kate Markgraf said. "We put ourselves in a hole."
Despite the crushing loss, coach Pia Sundhage was optimistic the Americans still can compete for the gold.
"This is a crazy game where you give up two goals early in the game and bounce back," she said. "The way the players tried. That's why we think the players can be successful and win the gold."
It's certainly not an impossible task.
The Americans, who have medaled in all three previous Olympics (golds in 1996 and 2004 and a silver in 2000), are accustomed not only to winning, but to dictating the pace of games. They did neither before a crowd of 7,400 at the Qinhuandago Sports Centre Stadium.
The uninspired performance was defined by a team that looked slow, especially against the taller and more physical Norwegians, sloppy play and unforced errors and giveaways and indecisive at times.
The last three times these two teams played, the U.S. won by scores of 4-0 twice earlier this year and 4-1 in the third-place match at the 2007 Women's World Cup.
Actually, this U.S. team hasn't been accustomed to losing this year. Under Sundhage, the Americans were a near-perfect 20-0-1, tying only Canada, 1-1.
The loss broke new ground in a number of areas, mostly bad news. The U.S. entered the match with a 12-1-3 mark at the 1996, 2000 and 2004 Games and had never lost an opening-round match en route to a 7-0-2 record. It also was the first shutout loss suffered by the U.S. at the Summer Games. They had played China to a scoreless tie in the opening round in 1996.
Playing their first competitive match without injured star striker Abby Wambach (broken left leg), the Americans looked rather tentative early on and they paid for that dearly.
"You can't do that in this tournament," midfielder Shannon Boxx said. "We came out a bit flat."
The Norwegians surprisingly grabbed a one-goal advantage with the match only 61 seconds old, the fastest goal in Olympic women's history. Forward Solveig Gulbrandsen sent in a left-wing cross into the middle of the penalty area. U.S. defender Lori Chalupny and Leni Larsen Kaurin both leapt after the ball while goalkeeper Hope Solo came out of the net. Kaurin got to the ball first and headed it in from eight yards, while punching Chalupny in the face as Solo failed to get a hand on the ball.
“That’s the life of a goalkeeper. It’s about decisions," Solo said. "It was a pretty well-placed ball where I was forced to make a decision, come or go. I came and she beat me to it.”
The Americans' defense continued to falter in the fourth minute. This time a veteran defender was the culprits on the goal as Melissa Wilk intercepted a Kate Markgraf back pass on the right flank. With team captain Christie Rampone in pursuit, Solo came out to cut down the angle. Wilk fired a shot to the far left post that eluded the keeper and gave the underdogs a highly unlikely 2-0 lead.
"It was a really bad ball I played and they capitalized on it," Markgraf said.
Added Solo: "It wasn't my night, I guess. She put it away nicely."
After referee Nicole Petignat whistled the game over, the Norwegians celebrated by running to their fans on the far side of the field and thanking them for their support.
The Americans gathered around Sundhage for some words of wisdom.
Sundhage told the team that we better find a way to play 90 [minutes] and good soccer and that we make life hard for ourselves," Solo said. "We're a winning team and that she has all the confidence in the world in us."
At the post-game press conference Sundhage made a number of unusual statements about the U.S. coming back, although the Americans did not put any goals on the scoreboard. True, they pushed forward and produced more offensive thrusts, but their quality of shots did not measure up until Norwegian goalkeeper Erika Skarboe tipped Boxx's long-range attempt over the crossbar two minutes into stoppage time.
As it turned out, it was too little and too late, a tactic the U.S. must avoid in its last two group matches if it has any aspirations for a medal.
NEVER SAY DIE
2012: U.S. women just won't give up
By Michael Lewis
GLASGOW -- It has been the cornerstone of the U.S. Women's National Team since its first game in 1985: Never give up.
When France shocked the United States by taking a 2-0 lead only 14 minutes into the match on Wednesday, Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach took matters into their own hands, or rather feet and head on July 26.
Morgan said that she and "Abby looked at each other and said, ‘All right, a goal each.'
The American dynamic duo did themselves one better. Morgan scored a brace and Wambach had one to help the U.S. to a 4-2 comeback triumph over the French in an Olympic women's soccer Group G encounter at Hampden Park.
"Going up two goals against us is quite a feat in my opinion," Wambach said. "The fact that we grinded it out, came back and had four unanswered goals, that’s a little demoralizing for any opponent truthfully. I’m proud of us. This team, no matter what bumps we approach, we hop over them together."
The U.S. players said that nerves got to them in the early part of the match.
"It was more than a wake-up call," captain Christie Rampone said. "One goal was enough."
Before halftime, the U.S. managed to pull even on Wambach's header in the 19th minute off a Megan Rapinoe corner kick (one of her three assists) and Morgan's 32nd-minute score off goalkeeper Hope Solo's long punt.
"We're the best team in the world," said Carli Lloyd, who scored the game-winner in the 56th minute. "If anyone can come back from a two-goal deficit it's us."
She got no argument from Solo.
Some teams would have folded like a beach chair down by two goals. But the Americans realized they plenty of time -- some 76 minutes -- to get back into the match. They did more than that. After halftime, they dominated most of the second half. The French applied pressure for the final 15 minutes, something you would expect by a trailing team.
"It's the commitment to each other on this team," Rampone said. "It's not doing it individually. It shows that we are committed to each other. This team, young, old, all different creative personalities out there. We all know we need each other. We relied on each other at that moment instead of trying to do it individually. This team has grown a lot over the years."