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U.S. squad hopes to pass sizable test

If the gold-medal favorite U.S. women's soccer team is to get off on the right foot in today's Olympic opener at the Florida Citrus Bowl and beat Denmark, it wouldn't hurt to set the rhythm.

"What we want to do is establish some kind of possession game right away," veteran midfielder Julie Foudy said.

"If we can possess it, then they'll have to chase us," coach Tony DiCicco said. "And in this heat, I think we can wear them down."

The United States, which won the inaugural women's World Cup in 1991 and finished third in the 1995 World Cup, has been able to do that to most teams.

It's riding a 13-match winning streak and is 17-1-1 this year, including a 2-1 win over Denmark in Orlando on Feb.

10. Overall, the United States is 4-3-1 against Denmark.

Still, no one predicts dictating the tempo against Denmark will be easy.

Although Denmark's roster is replete with relative youngsters, its players are aggressive and tall. Many hover around the 6-foot mark. The United States has only two players above 5-9 _ reserve forward Cindy Parlow at 5-11 and forward/midfielder Michelle Akers at 5-10 _ and has at times struggled to overcome teams with size. See the 1-0 loss to Norway in the 1995 World Cup semifinals.

Defensively, Denmark tries to apply pressure, forcing teams to play the ball in the air where the Danes can use their size to control the action. On offense, Denmark prefers to hit the ball high and directly at the goal.

"The toughest thing is just solving their pressure," Foudy said. "It's easier to be a disruptive team than a creative team.".

"We expect a hard-fought game," DiCicco said.

Still, the Americans are confident if they play the way they can, Denmark's size and style won't be a factor.

With forwards Mia Hamm, Tiffeny Milbrett and Carin Gabarra and midfielders Kristine Lilly and Tisha Venturini joining Akers, Foudy and Parlow, the U.S. team is a formidable, experienced juggernaut.

Six of them have scored more than 20 goals internationally.

Five have appeared in more than 90 international games.

And they are anxious to play. This is the first time women's soccer is an Olympic sport and they are at home. Their training center is about a 30-minute ride east on Interstate 4 in Sanford.

"We're tired of training," said Akers, the former University of Central Florida star who continues a courageous battle against chronic fatigue brought on by Epstein-Barr virus. "We're really frothing at the mouths to hear that first whistle."

U.S. women

vs. Denmark

WHEN/WHERE: 4 p.m.; Florida Citrus Bowl.

TV: None.

TICKETS: $20-$40. Available at all Ticketmaster outlets. Also will be sold at Gate C of the Citrus Bowl beginning at 10 a.m.

PARKING: $5 at the stadium; $3 shuttle from Church Street Station.

U.S.-DENMARK HISTORY: The United States is 4-3-1 against Denmark, which includes a 2-1 win in February in Orlando and a 2-0 win in June 1995 at the World Cup in Sweden. The most lopsided result was a 7-0 United States shellacking in February 1995 in Winter Park.

PLAYER TO WATCH: United States _ Mia Hamm, F. Denmark _ Hella Jensen, M.

WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THE UNITED STATES: America, known for its relentless attack, will look to control the ball with deft, precise passes involving everyone. But always be alert for a quick counter with a long feed to the speedy Hamm.

WHAT TO EXPECT FROM DENMARK: With a clear size advantage, Denmark will try to keep the ball in the air on offense and force the United States to do likewise. Size is critical on set plays, so watch Denmark's corner kicks and free kicks near the box.