USA Will Participate in First Event of Olympic Games on Aug. 11 vs. Greece;
U.S. Drawn Into Group of Four Teams and Will Play One Match on the Island of Crete in Heraklio and Two Matches in Thessaloniki
CHICAGO (Wednesday, June 9, 2004) – The U.S. Women’s National Team was placed into Group G with Greece, Brazil and Australia at the 2004 Olympic Women’s Soccer Tournament on Wednesday morning during the Olympic Draw held at the Athens 2004 Conference Center in Athens, Greece.
The USA will actually participate in one of the first events of the 2004 Olympic Games (along with three other women’s soccer matches kicking off at the same time) when it faces host Greece on Aug. 11 at 6 p.m. local time (11 a.m. ET) at Pankritio Stadium in Heraklio, the southernmost of the five Olympics venues. Heraklio is the capital of the beautiful island of Crete, and the venue will host an Opening Gala before the USA-Greece match. The official Opening Ceremonies are on Aug. 13 in Athens. After playing Greece, the USA will travel to the northernmost venue for the final two Group G games, facing Brazil on Aug. 14 (6 p.m. local / 11 a.m. ET) at Kaftanzoglio Stadium in Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece, before finishing Group G play against Australia on Aug. 17 (6 p.m. local / 11 a.m. ET). After the first match in Heraklio, the U.S. team will take an hour and forty-minute flight to Thessaloniki for its next two matches.
In the unusual 10-team tournament format of two groups of three teams and one group of four, the USA was placed into the group of four as the three European teams – Greece, Sweden and Germany – were separated, one into each group. With Germany, the USA and Sweden as three of the top four teams in the world according to the FIFA rankings, it was determined that each of the countries would be in different first round groups. If the USA advances out of group play, they will have played three matches over a seven-day span while their opponent in the quarterfinals will have played just two. The first round matches will eliminate just two of the eight teams – three of the four teams will advance from Group G, and all three teams from either Group E or F -- after which the competition then moves to the knockout stages with the quarterfinals.
The four quarterfinals of the tournament will be played on Aug. 20 in Heraklio, Patra, Thessaloniki and Volos. The semifinals are in Heraklio and Patra on Aug. 23 while the gold and bronze medal matches will be at Olympic Stadium (also called Karaiskaki Stadium) in Athens on Aug. 26.
“It’s great to be in a group of four,” said U.S. head coach April Heinrichs. “We get to play more games to get a better rhythm and get used to the fields and conditions in Greece. We are used to being in the toughest group and having the most vigorous travel schedule. You have to go through the world’s best no matter how it plays out so we are very happy with the draw.”
Unlike in the last two world championships, the USA seems to have avoided the “Group of Death” this time around, with that moniker not really suiting any of the three groups, which seem to have been evenly drawn out, not counting the discrepancies in matches played. Group E features 2003 Women’s World Cup runner-up Sweden, the only team to beat the USA this year, Japan and African champions Nigeria. Group F features 2003 Women’s World Cup Champion Germany, Asian champion China and upstart Mexico, and begins with a classic China vs. Germany clash on Aug. 11 in Patra. The women’s groupings in the Olympics are labeled E, F and G because the four men’s groups are A through D. A TV schedule of soccer broadcasts will be announced by Olympics rights-holders NBC Sports in the near future.
The USA’s match against Greece will be its first-ever against the Mediterranean country and the first time the U.S. women have faced a host country in a world championship event. Greece qualified for the tournament automatically as hosts, a berth that denied several stronger European nations a spot in the Olympics, but the young Greeks, which feature a good number of Greek-American players, have played many matches over the past two years in preparation for its first run on the world stage.
“We saw Greece play at the Algarve Cup in Portugal and I was impressed by their work ethic,” said Heinrichs. “They are a committed, passionate, hard working team and I am sure they will play with a lot of pride in that opening game. It’s an honor to face the host country and we are expecting a fantastic atmosphere in the stadium that night.”
After being placed in Group G at G2, the USA had a chance to draw China, Brazil or Japan from Pot 2, and drew the perennial South American champions who faced the USA on April 24 of this year, a 5-1 U.S. victory in Birmingham, Ala.
“We haven’t faced Brazil in the first round of a world championship event since the 1991 Women’s World Cup,” said Heinrichs. “They are an electrifying team to watch and the present and an extremely difficult style to match up against. Despite our result against them in the last game, there is no one in our camp who expects that same result in the opening round of the Olympics. All teams experiment in friendly matches and do things they wouldn’t do in the first round of an Olympics. We had to go through them in 2000 to get the gold medal match and it was unequivocally our most difficult game.”
The final team in the USA’s group came from Pot 3, consisting of Mexico, Nigeria and Australia. Since the USA could not face a regional opponent in the first round, the final opponent was destined to be Australia or Nigeria and the U.S. drew the Oceania champions. The luck of the draw suddenly made the USA’s July 21 meeting with Australia in Blaine, Minn. (6 p.m. CT on ESPN2), just a bit more interesting as the two countries will meet in a “friendly” match that now serves as an Olympic preview just 28 days before they meet in Olympic competition.
“Australia is a blue-collar, hard-working, hard-nosed team that is willing to take risks like playing three at the back against a three-front,” said Heinrichs. “They are not afraid to compete with any team in the world and they are prepared to try to outwork anyone.”
The U.S. team has three matches remaining before leaving for Greece, the next of which is July 3 vs. Canada in Nashville, Tenn. (7 p.m. CT on ESPN). The USA will finish its preparation with the match against Australia and with an Olympic send-off game on Aug. 1 in Hartford, Conn. against China (3 p.m. ET on ESPN2).
2004 OLYMPIC WOMEN’S SOCCER TOURNAMENT GROUPS
2004 Olympic Women’s Soccer Tournament Schedule
A Little Bit About the USA’s First-Round Olympic Venues …
The capital of the beautiful island of Crete and Greece's fifth largest town, Heraklio is a vibrant port steeped in history. Founded by the Saracens in the 9th Century, the town briefly became the center of the Mediterranean slave trade before the Venetians conquered. Today, many examples still exist of their architecture most notably the Basilica di San Marco and the Morozini fountain. The island’s location directly south of Athens and in the heart of the Mediterranean has helped to attract many more tourists to Heraklio in recent years tempted by Crete’s combination of breathtaking landscape and picture-perfect beaches. Just a few miles down the road from Heraklio lies the Minoan palace of Knossos built more than 2,000 years before the birth of Jesus Christ.
The new 27,000-seat Pankritio Stadium will host a number of matches in the Olympic Football Tournament. The state-of-the-art construction will also include a 400-meter track of eight lanes, shot put and hammer throw valves and other facilities such as swimming pool, multipurpose hall, and administration offices for use once the Olympics are over. Built on the outskirts of Heraklio, it will be an important Olympic legacy for the island of Crete.
Greece’s second largest city is also one of Europe’s oldest. Touched by the location’s beautiful plateau between low-lying hills and the bay area of the Gulf Thermaikos, Thessaloniki’s founder Cassander, King of Macedonia, named it after his wife and sister of Alexander the Great in 315 BC. Today the city of Thessaloniki, situated in northern Greece, holds a population of one million people. A thriving financial center and Mediterranean port with trade links to the Balkans, the metropolis is also an important cultural and educational center. Tourists have long flocked to its borders to visit Roman ruins and monuments dating back to the Byzantine period when Thessaloniki was the second most influential center after Constantinople. Inside the still standing city walls in the old town, neo-classical architecture rubs shoulders with modern buildings, tree-lined avenues shade fashion shops, pubs, “ouzeries,” relaxed bars and “bouzouki halls”, while parks and squares are meeting points for its friendly inhabitants.
Situated very close to the city center, the Kaftanzoglio Stadium, which is being renovated for the Olympics, has a rich soccer history. Home to Iraklis FC, it has also staged 18 international matches and a Cup Winners Cup Final in 1973 when AC Milan defeated Leeds United. Scheduled to host group matches, a quarterfinal and a semifinal, the 44-year-old stadium has undergone major renovation. A metallic building to house the world’s press and another providing training facilities are being constructed, while a sports museum is under development close to the 25,000-capacity arena.