U.S. Women 3, Greece 0
When small bands of Greek soccer fans started the chant -- "Hellas! Hellas!", the cry for their home country -- the U.S. women allowed little opportunity for it to gain momentum. When the crowd at Pankritio Stadium stood to cheer even the slightest Greek run, the Americans invariably took the ball away, and the fans returned to their seats.
The Summer Olympics began quietly Wednesday night on the isle of Crete -- two days before the Opening Ceremonies, far from Athens. For the U.S. women, calm was better than clamorous, and they easily took a 3-0 victory over Greece in the first meeting between the countries in women's soccer.
The particulars -- U.S. goals from Shannon Boxx, Abby Wambach and Mia Hamm -- were perhaps less interesting than the subplots. The United States, a favorite to win a medal at these Games, was expected to dominate this match, for the Greek women's team has been together just two years, and some of the Americans have played with each other for more than half their lives. So when members of the teams ran into each other in their hotel or around the island in the days leading up to the match, the Greeks had a significant amount of awe to overcome.
"At first, I was like, 'You guys, calm down!' " said Greek midfielder Walker Loseno. "They'd see them, and they'd be like, 'That's Mia!' "
Such is the state of women's team sports in Greece. The crowd of 15,757, leaving banks of seats empty at the stadium, was still the largest the Greek women had ever performed before -- by about 14,787. The Greek roster was fortified by players like Loseno, a native of Seattle who plays college soccer at Gonzaga and is playing under her Greek middle name, Amalia.
The Greeks started seven American players. One was Loseno, whose great-grandparents were born in Greece. Two years ago, she was surfing a soccer site on the Internet. She saw that Greece needed players, flew over to try out a week later, and -- presto! -- she was a Greek national. She trained off-and-on with her new team over the last two years, picked up her Greek passport in New York on the way to the Games, and spent much of the week trying to convince her teammates that the U.S. players -- winners of the first Olympic gold medal in soccer in 1996 -- weren't aliens.
"They have two hands, two feet," Loseno said. "They're just as strong as us. The only thing is, they're more experienced."
Because of that experience, the Americans have high standards. So Wednesday's performance was merely productive, not perfect. The United States dominated possession in the first half and scored early, using Boxx's goal -- off a beautiful feed from Hamm, who faked out Greece's Angeliki Lagoumtzi so badly that Lagoumtzi fell down -- to go up 1-0 in the 14th minute.
In the 30th minute, midfielder Kate Markgraf -- the former Kate Sobrero, who was married last fall -- made a nice cross that Wambach headed home. The United States took a 2-0 lead into the half. American goalkeeper Brianna Scurry could have sat down in her net for most of the opening 45 minutes.
Yet for a long time, that appeared as if it would be all the scoring. The Greeks, despite the fact that they were trailing, continued to play defensively.
"To break open a bunker," Hamm said, "everything has to be clicking."
The Americans fired several shots, some wide, some which overworked goalkeeper Maria Giatrakis -- who grew up in Brooklyn and played at Connecticut -- got her hands on.
"We had a lot more chances than we finished," midfielder Kristine Lilly said. "If we want to keep improving, we need to finish those."
In the 82nd minute, Hamm did. She put a wicked move on Greek defender Konstantina Katsaiti near the top of the penalty box -- starting to her right, then pulling back to the left -- and fired a ball toward the left corner.
"I saw a window to bend it around her," Hamm said, "and hopefully around the goalkeeper."
Giatrakis got her fingers on it, but the ball glanced off the left post, and bounced into the back of the net. It was Hamm's 152nd international goal, more than anyone, male or female. "Outstanding," U.S. Coach April Heinrichs said. "Quintessential Mia."
In a way, the match was a perfect example of what the American team has become. The Greek players -- so young, so inexperienced, and from different backgrounds -- felt good about allowing only three goals, about standing up to the players who raised women's soccer from an afterthought to action-packed.
"When the world watches women playing, they get a new perspective on it, and tonight was a great example of that," U.S. captain Julie Foudy said. "They've had a very successful men's team here, but they haven't supported their women's team. It's not in their culture for women to play. We're hopeful . . . that changes."
As long as it didn't change against the Americans, who received eye-opening news from another site. Germany, which beat the United States in the World Cup last fall, posted a shocking 8-0 victory over China, thought to be a medal contender. "Get outta here!" Foudy said when told the score. Yet with three valuable points gained for the victory, and Brazil up next on Saturday, the United States can't worry about others.
"One game down, with a victory," Foudy said. "That's all we wanted."