The U.S. women's soccer team has been in the city of Thessaloniki, nearly 190 miles north of Athens, since last Thursday, holed up in a sprawling hotel on the outskirts of town. Now, the goal is to extend their stay.
The Americans will face Australia Tuesday night at Kaftanzoglio Stadium in their final match of preliminary play in the 10-team tournament. Should they win -- or, in some combinations of events, even if they lose -- the Americans will win Group G. The champion of Group G will play in the quarterfinals on Friday in Thessaloniki.
The United States leads the group with six points -- three for each of its victories over Greece and Brazil -- and has already qualified for the quarterfinals. Even a draw would ensure the top placement in the group.
Australia won one match, against Greece, and lost another, to Brazil. Though the Aussies will advance to the quarterfinals should Brazil beat Greece -- a likelihood -- they would improve their seeding, not to mention their confidence level, with a win or draw against the United States.
"We want to win our group," U.S. midfielder Kristine Lilly said. "Whatever they throw at us, whatever comes at us, we'll make due and play our game."
The United States will do so without star forward Abby Wambach, who has scored a goal in each of the Americans' two games, yet drew her second yellow card of the tournament Saturday against Brazil. Thus, she must sit out Tuesday night.
But the Americans got good news on the yellow card front: FIFA President Sepp Blatter said Monday that the yellow-card suspension rule has been changed for the women's tournament, easing concerns that the Americans could lose a key player for the quarterfinals.
Under normal FIFA rules, a player who receives two yellow cards in the first round of a major tournament is suspended for the quarterfinals. Coach April Heinrichs had argued that the rule was unfair to the four teams in Group C, including the United States, who have to play an extra game in the preliminary round.
The change does not help Wambach, but benefits U.S. defender Christie Rampone, who received a yellow card Saturday against Brazil. She can now play in Tuesday's game against Australia without the worry of getting suspended for another yellow card.
On Monday, Heinrichs declined to announce who would start in Wambach's place. A good bet, though, would be that Lindsay Tarpley will work her way into the lineup at either midfield or forward. Tarpley came in late against Brazil -- a game in which the United States struggled mightily for an entire half -- and immediately showed the ability to evade defenders with the dribble. Cindy Parlow and Heather O'Reilly are also candidates to see more playing time.
"The thing about 'Tarp' is she's got such great pace," U.S. forward Mia Hamm said, "and really great instincts. . . . She can penetrate off the dribble."
To a woman, the U.S. players said they would be able to overcome the loss of Wambach and win anyway. The Americans beat the Aussies, 3-1, in a pre-Olympic match in July in Minnesota.