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Hammís dominance was a pleasure to watch.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Sunday, June 20, 1999) -- Yes, she scored the first goal, and it was a world-class effort, roofing a left-footed shot after outmaneuvering a defender. But Mia Hamm's dominance in the Women's World Cup opener against Denmark was much, much more than just that score that led to a 3-0 victory.

She was all over Giants Stadium, setting up her United States teammates with passes, running back to the other side of the field to defend. And did you catch that back-heel pass?

It was her goal-box cross that led to Julie Foudy's goal that made it 2-0. It was her hustling back on defense that helped thwart some of offensively challenged Denmark's meager sorties. Hamm has a world-record 110 international goals, and could easily have 30-40 more if she wasn't so unselfish.

Unlike most teams, Denmark didn't pay too much attention to her. She was seldom double-teamed and seldom fouled. The forward who was fouled, often, was fellow striker Tiffeny Milbrett, who spent almost as much time on the ground as upright, so rough was her treatment.

Other teams might not be so kind to Hamm. Look for double-teams in the future. Look for more fouling. We can only hope for the same sort of officiating that was present for U.S.-Denmark, in the person of Sonia Denoncourt (Canada), who kept the game under control and moving.

If Hamm gets more attention, her teammates must convert scoring opportunities if the Americans are going to advance beyond the quarterfinals. The U.S. attack was diversified, particularly effective with the rushes of wing backs Joy Fawcett and Brandi Chastain.

Coach Tony DiCicco flip-flopped forward Cindy Parlow and midfielder Kristine Lilly in the second half, moving the veteran up front, and dropping the 21-year-old to attacking midfielder. We're not certain which alignment works better, though he looked like a genius this time, with Lilly scoring the third goal after the switch.

His installation of Kate Sobrero in the central defense months ago continues to pay dividends. She is not a finished product, by any means, and she still makes errors. But she has the speed and physical presence to overcome those miscues and make big plays. That's important because the United States, with its attacking nature, is susceptible to counter-attacks, and the other two defenders in the middle, veterans Carla Overbeck and Michelle Akers, are known for the guile and power, respectively, not speed.

The atmosphere was exciting; the game wasn't, mainly because the Americans controlled play except for the first few minutes, when Denmark nearly scored.

For excellence on opening day, there was a classic China-Sweden game, with veteran China showing why some regard it as the tournament favorite, and Sweden displaying surprising poise and athletic ability despite losing 2-1.

For excitement, there were the twin hat tricks by Sissi and Pretinha for ball-handling magicians Brazil against outclassed Mexico. Canada and Japan were undistinguished, battling to a 1-1 tie. Yes, the tournament began in the midst of the NBA Finals and at the end of the Stanley Cup.

We'll take it over the offense showed by the New York Knicks . . . and both the Buffalo Sabres and Dallas Stars.

Jerry Langdon is sports editor of Gannett News Service and can be e-mailed at jlangdon@gns.gannett.com.

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