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Door open for U.S. repeat

American women make capital trip for soccer semis

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Latest: Thursday September 21, 2000 01:23 PM

  Tiffeny Milbrett Tiffeny Milbrett fights off two Chinese defenders in the United States' 1-1 draw against China. AP

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) -- On to Canberra, where there are fond memories of snow.

The U.S. women's soccer team, unbeaten in three games in defense of their gold medal, traveled from Melbourne to Australia's relaxed capital Thursday to prepare for Sunday's semifinal game against Brazil.

"Back to our home in Canberra," coach April Heinrichs said, "where we spent 10 of the coldest days in the middle of the summer -- when it snowed for the first time in 99 years during their rugby football finals. We're as happy as we could be."

That's a wonderfully romantic spin on a sometimes dour trip the team took Down Under in June for a new tournament called the Pacific Cup. It was the middle of the Australian winter, and China's 1-0 victory over the United States -- their first meeting since last year's World Cup final -- game drew just 550 chilly fans to Canberra's Bruce Stadium.

The U.S. team has had two chances to avenge that defeat since -- at a tournament in Germany and five days ago in the first round of the Olympics -- but both games ended in a 1-1 tie. The Americans were expecting another shot in next week's gold medal game, but China was eliminated Wednesday in a 2-1 loss to Norway.

"I can't believe it," said forward Tiffeny Milbrett, who was among those itching for another rematch. "It's shocking."

With China out, Germany and Norway will play in the other semifinal Sunday in Sydney. The door seems plenty ajar for another American title: In their last respective meetings, the U.S. team beat Brazil 4-0, Norway 2-0 and Germany 1-0.

"We always want to play China because it's always going to be a good game," defender Kate Sobrero said. "Norway's a great team, though. I don't think they played that well against us, but it's not like, `Phew! China's not in it,' because they beat China. We couldn't beat China."

The draw has kept the American players away from the heart of the Olympics in Sydney, expect for a one-night trip to march in the Opening Ceremonies. Looking out of the window during their short plane flight Thursday, they saw snow again, atop the Victorian Alps, not exactly a reminder of the beach volleyball that's happening further east.

"Being away from Sydney, you're more focused," captain Julie Foudy said. "We were at the Olympic village for the Opening Ceremonies and it's just chaos. It's great, but there's so much going on and there are so many athletes. We've been kind of spoiled. We have our hotel, we get our own food, we're not fighting in lines for food."

They can't avoid it forever. The championship and third-place games are both in Sydney next Thursday.

After three games in seven days, capped with Wednesday's 3-1 victory over Nigeria to win their group with a 2-0-1 record, the players had Thursday off except for some stretching and jogging.

"The toll of these three games has been incredible," Milbrett said. "There's no way you can prepare yourself completely for Olympic matches because they're so intense, and you have all the nerves you don't have in friendly matches.

"Everybody was coming in here expecting it to be the hardest three games of their life, and it has been. Sometimes it hasn't been pretty, and sometimes it's been downright ugly."


 
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