They came in record numbers to celebrate women's soccer and their own team. Although it took a while for the American women to get going, the biggest crowd to watch the sport in the United States got what it wanted.
Mia Hamm, the career goal-scoring leader with 110, demonstrated all of her skills with a goal and an assist Saturday in the 3-0 U.S. victory over Denmark to open the Women's World Cup. Before a turnout of 78,972 the most ever for a U.S. women's sporting event
the Americans took control in the second half.
Hamm was at the forefront. She scored a masterful goal in the 17th minute. Her passes either sprung teammates for open shots or found them in threatening positions. She created space for herself, as well.
But not until Julie Foudy converted a long cross from Hamm with 17 minutes left could the home team feel secure. Kristine Lilly scored from 18 yards in the 89th minute as the U.S. veterans led the victory.
At the end, with American flags waving everywhere, the players hugged, then trotted around the field, clapping and saluting the fans. Most of them looked like they didn't want to leave, and no one could blame them.
A team that favors the quick strike was more methodical in wearing down the Danes. Led by Hamm's brilliant playmaking, the Americans had numerous scoring chances in the second half, as Denmark seemed to tire.
But the marksmanship wasn't there nearly all day. Cindy Parlow hit the crossbar. So did Lilly. Then Lilly missed by inches while wide open in front.
Danish goalkeeper Dorthe Larsen made a brilliant punch save on Tiffeny Milbrett as the Americans who won the first World Cup in 1991 and took the 1996 Olympic gold medal continued their charge.
Finally, Hamm's cross soared over Lilly's head, but right to Foudy, who put a left-footed kick into the top of the net.
Lilly finished it off with a bending left-footer.
The huge crowd, which included United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan, New Jersey Governor Christine Whitman and Pele, soccer's biggest star, was entertained by the pop group 'N Sync before the game. Other than Hamm's goal, the singers drew the loudest cheers through the opening half.
The Danes won most of Briana Scurry's goal kicks, which helped them form some quick attacks. But those forays generally fizzled as the American defense, led by captain Carla Overbeck, kept the goal area clear, and Scurry got her 50th career shutout.
Milbrett took a beating early, twice colliding with Danish players, sending her to the ground. Each time, she got up slowly and rarely was she able to contribute.
But the other forwards, Hamm and Parlow, made several dangerous moves. Parlow's lack of speed and the close marking on Hamm prevented the Americans from getting more than the early goal until their fitness and flair took over.
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