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U.S. has room for improvement

HERAKLIO, Greece -- The stunning news reached the U.S. Women's Olympic soccer team as the players were exiting from Pankritio Stadium on Wednesday night.

Germany 8, China 0.

That's right, 8-0 in favor of the reigning world champions against a side that has become a former international women's soccer power.

You would expect that vs. one of the lower echelon teams, certainly not against a team that was an American nemesis and could have been world champion in 1999 had it not been for a Briana Scurry save and Brandi Chastain penalty kick.

Needless to say, the result jolted anyone who heard it.

When she was told of the result by yours truly after the U.S. dispatched Greece on Wednesday, team captain and midfielder Julie Foudy had a look of disbelief on her face. You certainly could hear it in her voice as well.

"What?" she asked.

"Who?

"Shut up.

"Get out of here.

"Oh my God.

"Really?"

It might have taken a while before the news sunk in, but the Germans let the remaining nine teams in the Olympic tournament know life will get tougher when they have to meet up with the reigning world champions.

If everything falls into place, the U.S. is expected to play Germany in the Aug. 23 semifinals.

The United States' win over the hosts wasn't as impressive. It was a workmanlike performance and a solid effort, but lacked much of the attacking flair that has been the Americans' trademark for almost the past two decades.

Don't get me wrong. The Americans had little trouble with the Greeks. They outshot them, 26-1. The hosts were credited with one shot on goal, but quite frankly, I don't recall writing it down in my notebook (so, it must have been something like an innocent bouncer to the goalkeeper).

But you had to expect more from the 2000 silver medalists. After all, they were playing inexperienced Greece, which was making its debut in one of two major women's soccer tournaments. Greece has but 500 females playing the sport and needed to recruit eight Greek-American players to make its roster more competitive.

Yes, Greece bunkered down, allowing the U.S. to get into scoring positions, but the Americans could place only a few quality shots on goal. If the Americans have serious aspirations of winning it all, it must find ways to break down teams the quality of Greece. This is supposedly the easiest game of the first round.

An opening game result certainly doesn't make a tournament - teams can lose or gain form from game to game. But like many people, I take things at face value. If a team wins 8-0, it must be considered a team to be reckoned with. If it underachieves en route to a 3-0 victory against a weak side, it could have some problems down the road.

The U.S. will have to raise its level if it wants to take home the gold one more time. The Americans already have a silver and they certainly don't want to complete their collection with a bronze medal.

MLS rules at the women's Olympic tournament?

If I didn't know any better, I'd say Major League Soccer rules have been adopted for the women's tournament. Ten teams are competing and eight will reach the quarterfinals. Wait, there's more. The three groups are uneven. Groups E and F have three teams apiece and Group G -- the U.S. group -- has four teams. That means Group G teams will be forced to play more first-round games than the other two groups (whether that takes it toll on the U.S. team down the road, it remains to be seen). And wait, there's even more five of the six teams in Groups E and F will qualify for the quarters, as will three of the four Group G sides.

Crazy, huh?

The 1996 and 2000 tournaments had eight teams -- two groups of four. The top two teams in each group would advance to the semifinals. FIFA hopes to rectify the situation and expand the tournament to 12 teams for the next Olympics - in Beijing in 2004.

Chip shots

  • Great goal: Mia Hamm's 82nd-minute goal was a thing of beauty. She ran into the penalty area and found herself up against a pair of Greek defenders - Konstantina Katsaiti and Angeliki Lagoumtzi. She faked them both out and fired a 15-yard shot with her left foot that goalkeeper Maria Giatrakis barely touched before it hit the bottom of the left post and into the net. "Quintessential Mia," coach April Heinrichs said.

  • Hmmm: When Heinrichs was told about the Germany result, she sounded a bit presumptuous about why the Chinese were outscored by eight goals. "We may have put a little dent in China's confidence," Heinrichs said, referring to the United States's 3-1 win over China in Hartford on Aug. 1. "Going into an Olympic opener that's no time to go in with a lack of confidence." Heinrichs added about the world champions: "Germany is a great team. We saw that in the World Cup. They're a team to keep an eye on. An 8-0 result against China is a magnificent start."

  • Yellow peril: Forward Abby Wambach was slapped with a yellow card. If she gets another in the opening round, she will be forced to sit out a game. Two yellows from different games and you're out of one match. That's the tough world of Olympic and World Cup tournaments.

  • Unique delay of game: Here's a first. The start of the second half of the U.S.-Greece game was delayed because the ballboys and ballgirls were not on the field. They quickly ran onto the pitch and referee Jenny Palmqvist signaled for the U.S. to take the second-half kickoff.

  • Biggest upset: That's easy - Japan surprising Sweden, 1-0. The Swedes finished second in last year's WWC. Second biggest upset was Mali playing Mexico to a scoreless draw in the men's tournament. Remember, the Mexicans defeated the U.S. in qualifying, 4-0, as the American men failed to reach the Olympic tournament for the first time since 1976.

  • The last word: One more thing about Germany's victory. In case you were wondering how the Germans would fare without the retired Maren Meinert, they did quite well, thank you. Birgit Prinz picked up where she left off in the WWC, scoring four goals in her first game.

    Michael Lewis, soccer columnist for the New York Daily News, will provide commentary about the U.S. women's Olympic team and other soccer matches at the Summer Games in Athens for ESPN.com. He is the only journalist to have covered 21 of 22 U.S. Women's National Team games in the last two Olympics (1996 and 2000) and Women's World Cup (1999 and 2003). He can be reached at SoccerWriter516@aol.com