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Defending champ Nigeria rallies to tie Honduras 3-3

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Latest: Thursday September 14, 2000 08:52 AM

  Nigeria's Isaac Okoronkwo (left) tries to kick the ball as Honduras' David Suazo tries to head it during their opening Olympic match. AP

MELBOURNE, Australia ( -- Nigeria found out quickly that defending the gold medal it won in Atlanta isn't going to be easy in Sydney.

The defending champions overcame a two-goal deficit to come back and tie Honduras 3-3 on Wednesday.

Italy, meanwhile, turned back host Australia 1-0 before 93,000 dismayed Aussie fans.

In the other group on the opening day of action at the Sydney Games, Cameroon edged Kuwait 3-2 and the United States and Czech Republic shared a 2-2 draw.

In women's action, Brazil downed Sweden 2-0 and Germany scored a 3-0 victory over Australia to make it a miserable night for the host nation.

At Adelaide's Hindmarsh stadium, David Suazo scored twice including a penalty and Julio Leon added another as Honduras led 3-1 with 14 minutes to go.

But Nigeria, forced to play without 1996 hero Nwankwo Kanu who has preferred to stay with his club Arsenal, rallied on goals by Victor Agali in the 78th and Yakubu Ayegbeni in the final minute.

Many expected the Super Eagles to easily handle Honduras before facing the more highly regarded Australia and Italy, and a mere point leaves Jo Bonfrere's team in a weakened position.

The only goal at the Melbourne Cricket Ground came nine minutes from the end of a well-balanced game before 93,252 fans, the vast majority supporting the Aussies.

Olyroos defender Hayden Foxe gave the ball away in his own half and it was quickly fed to Andrea Pirlo in front of goal with only keeper Danny Milosevic to beat.

His weakly struck shot hit the inside of the post and just made it over the line before Foxe tried to make up for his blunder by clearing the ball off the line. The Australians thought they had got away with it and it was several seconds before Jamaican referee Peter Prendergast awarded the goal which put the Italians atop Group A.

In the next games on Saturday, Italy faces Honduras at Adelaide with a victory guaranteeing a quarterfinal berth for the Europeans, and the Aussies and Nigerians meet at the Sydney Football Stadium.

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Cameroon survived a late scare when Jamal Abdulrahman pulled Kuwait within 3-2 with three minutes to go. But the Indomitable Lions left with three points thanks to goals by Nicolas Alnoudji, Patrick Mboma and Arsenal's Lauren Mayer, who added the third in the 85th minute.

The Americans twice squandered leads and were held to a 2-2 draw by the Czechs at Bruce Stadium in Canberra.

Chris Albright and Josh Wolff struck for the United States but the Czechs, runners-up to the Italians at the Euro U21 championship in June, earned a point through Marek Jankulovski and a Lukas Dosek penalty.

In women's action, World Cup bronze medalist Brazil underlined its potential with a 2-0 victory over Sweden on strikes by Pretinha and Katia.

The South Americans, who finished fourth in Atlanta four years ago, had three prime chances, but were thwarted by two saves by Swedish goalkeeper Caroline Joensson and a bad miss by Pretinha.

The Swedes could have snatched a point in the last minute when Hanna Ljungberg hit the post and Brazilian goalkeeper Andreia also made an acrobatic save.

In the other Group E game, Germany overwhelmed Australia 3-0 with strikes by Inka Grings, Bettina Wiegmann and Renate Lingor to go top of the group on goal difference.

In the other group on Thursday, defending titlist the United States faces 1996 bronze medalist Norway in Melbourne and China, runner-up four years ago, meets Nigeria at Canberra.

Related information
No Kanu, Kewell, Romario as soccer kicks off Olympics
Poor relation sport takes Olympic focus early
German, Brazilian women open Games with wins
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