THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) -- Run ragged and thoroughly outplayed for most of the game, the U.S. women's soccer team escaped with a victory that set
off a few warning bells in its quest for the gold. A fortuitous foul set up Mia Hamm's penalty kick in the 58th minute, and Abby Wambach scored on a
thrilling run in the 77th Saturday to give the United States a 2-0 victory over Brazil.
The victory secures a U.S. berth in the quarterfinals, although that's hardly an achievement given that eight of the 10 in the Olympic tournament will
advance. The Americans can clinch their group - and the high seeding that goes along with it - with a win or a tie against Australia in their final
first-round match Tuesday.
However, Wambach - who has scored an incredible 16 goals in 17 games - won't be allowed to play against the Aussies. Wambach received a yellow card
for a foul on Elaine in the 49th minute, giving the U.S. forward two yellow cards in the first round and triggering an automatic one-game
Brazil, meanwhile, was left to rue the fact that it couldn't finish its numerous scoring chances throughout the first two-thirds of the game. Dynamic
stars Marta and Rosana left the Americans flat-footed, stealing the ball from defenders seemingly at will and moving effortlessly toward the net.
But the goals never materialized. Formiga hit the crossbar with a 25-yard volley. Cristiane's sliding attempt from point-blank range nailed the right
post. Marta launched a free kick that forced a juggling save by busy goalkeeper Briana Scurry.
And that was just the first half.
The Americans, weary from chasing the ball in the 94-degree heat, finally got the break they needed when Wambach, chasing a pass from Julie Foudy, was
tripped by Monica in the corner of the penalty area, some 20 yards from the goal. Czech referee Dagmar Damkova awarded the penalty, which Hamm stroked
into the bottom right corner of the net for her 153rd career goal.
The goal energized the Americans, who played on par with the Brazilians for the rest of the match. The highlight came when Wambach threaded defenders
Monica and Juliana along the right flank and then put a left-footed 12-yard shot just inside the near post.
Wambach and Hamm have both scored in the last four games for the U.S. team, including the 3-0 victory over lightly regarded Greece in the Olympic
opener Wednesday. The American attack was uninspiring in that game as well, but a more dynamic effort was expected against the Brazilians.
But Wambach was the only standout Saturday. She got the only shot on goal in the first half and the only run of any length in the first 45 minutes, a
30-yard sprint that produced a throw-in.
The Americans lead the all-time series against Brazil 17-1-2, with the only loss coming in Brazil seven years ago. The U.S. team routed Brazil 5-1 in
Birmingham, Ala., in April, when both teams fielded many of their Olympic starters.
© 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.