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U.S. wins among friends

After it played so intensely for so long in the sweltering heat and humidity Sunday, it seemed unimaginable the United States women's soccer team would _ or could _ run farther still.

But there the players went. All of them.

From their bench, they bounded across the field and then the length of it to smile and wave to the unprecedented number of fans who had so boisterously cheered them to a dominating 3-0 win against Denmark in the teams' Olympic opener.

"Oh god. It's a great feeling to know your country's behind you," said midfielder Tisha Venturini, who scored the game's first goal.

The crowd of 25,303 at the Florida Citrus Bowl was the largest to watch the United States on its own soil. The previous high was 8,975 for a friendly game against Norway at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium on Feb. 4.

"It was overwhelming at first," said forward Michelle Akers, a former University of Central Florida star and longtime Orlando resident.

"The love, the support, the enthusiasm for our team. We haven't had that experience before. It is a pleasure playing here, to be an American today."

It was a good day to root for the American team.

From the outset, the gold-medal favorites controlled the ball with precise passing and dictated the tempo. Of course, Denmark seemed content to sit back defensively and let the U.S. team operate.

Heck. Even when Denmark had a free kick and the U.S. team had everyone back, Denmark kept three players near midfield.

Still, Denmark _ the only team other than Norway to beat the Americans in the past three years _ might have scored in the 34th minute had U.S. goalkeeper Briana Scurry not scurried off her line to smother a misplayed ball before forward Gitte Krogh could get a foot on it.

Two minutes later, Venturini _ who came tantalizingly close to scoring twice before _ controlled a Brandi Chastain throw-in just outside the 18-yard box and volleyed it toward the far post. Goalkeeper Dorthe Larsen dived to her left, but the ball went off her hands, hit the post and bounced in for a 1-0 lead.

"When the Americans scored, I think the hope died in my players' brains," Denmark coach Keld Gantzhorn said, refusing to blame the 102-degree temperature on the field. "Therefore, they gave too much time and space to the Americans."

And the U.S. team capitalized. In the 40th minute, Hamm, taking a headed lead pass from Akers, beat Larsen with a perfectly angled shot toward the far post. Three minutes into the second half, Hamm beat two defenders on the right and crossed the ball to Tiffeny Milbrett for an easy point-blank finish and a 3-0 lead. The assist was the 49th of Hamm's career, tying her with Olympic teammate Carin Gabarra for the all-time U.S. lead.

"We were ready to play today," said Akers, who came out in the 63rd minute. "We came here to win and it showed on the field how hard we've been working and the focus that we've been able to maintain."

The United States plays Sweden on Tuesday. Denmark heads to Miami to face China.

But this one won't be forgotten soon.

"It gives you goose bumps," Hamm said of the fervent support. "I saw my family, and walking out, I looked up. Of course my sister was a million miles away, but I thought I saw her crying. I couldn't help but get teary myself. I will never forget that moment for the rest of my life."

BRAZIL 2, NORWAY 2: At RFK Stadium in Washington, a 90th-minute shot by Pretinha deflected off Norway defender Nina Andersen Nymark and sailed just over the arms of goalkeeper Bente Nordby to give Brazil the tie with the world champion.

CHINA 2, SWEDEN 0: At the Orange Bowl in Miami, midfielder Lihong Zhao stole a pass, zig-zagged up the field and launched a kick from 30 yards that sailed over goalie Annelia Nilsson for China's second goal.

GERMANY 3, JAPAN 2: In Birmingham, Ala., Heidi Mohr's persistent attacking finally paid off with a goal in the 62nd minute.

_ Information from Times wires was used in this report.

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