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U.S. beats Sweden but may lose its star

After taking what looked to be a commanding lead against Sweden on Tuesday, the U.S. women's soccer team had to hold on desperately.

But even as the players unfurled a banner that read, "Thanks Orlando," to celebrate their 2-1 win with their ardent supporters at the Florida Citrus Bowl, the players continued to hold on to their collective breath.

The United States did secure a berth in the Olympic semifinals, thanks to goals by red-hot Tisha Venturini and Shannon MacMillan, but forward Mia Hamm, perhaps the best player in the world, suffered an ankle injury. X-rays were negative and it appears to be a sprain. She is listed as day-to-day.

"We hope she'll be back shortly," U.S. coach Tony DiCicco said.

"Mia's an impact player. You could be blind and know that," U.S. defender Brandi Chastain said. "She does so much. She scores goals. She stretches defenses. She puts fear in teams. We wouldn't want to play a game without her, but we're not lost as well."

The United States next meets China, also 2-0, Thursday at the Orange Bowl in a game that will determine seedings in Group E. If they tie, the goal differential favors China, which has a plus-six after a resounding 5-1 win against Denmark. The United States has a plus-four.

The top team from the group will meet the second team from Group F. That currently is Norway, the defending world champion and the Americans' archrival. Norway beat Germany 3-2 on Tuesday.

Norway's win makes up at least a little for a 2-2 tie Sunday with underdog Brazil. Norway (1-0-1; 4 points in Group F standings), gold-medal favorites along with the United States, needs at least a tie today against Japan (0-2) to move on to the semifinals. Brazil (1-0-1; 4 points) beat Japan 2-0.

The semifinals are Sunday at Athens and the medal games are Aug.

1.

"We may need to rest some players, we'll see," DiCicco said. "I'm confident with my 16 players. I feel we can beat anyone with a starting lineup based on those 16 players. I'd like to keep a starting lineup that's winning, but at the same time, if players physically need a rest, we will give (them one). This was a hard game."

That was evident from the opening moments. Venturini nearly scored in the opening minute when Hamm chipped a free kick into the box. But Venturini's header hit the crossbar. Less than a minute later, Sweden looked like it would score first. But forward Lena Videkull, left unmarked in a rare gaffe, misfired right from 8 yards out.

The United States finally scored when Hamm headed a ball to the middle of the box for Tiffeny Milbrett, who although only 5 feet 1, outjumped 5-8 defender Cecilia Sandell and headed the ball over to Venturini for a header and a 1-0 lead. It was Venturini's fifth goal in the past six games. All were the first of the game.

Venturini ended the half as she began it _ seeing a shot ricochet off wood. This time it was the post, off a deflection of Hamm's blast from just inside the box.

"I should have had about four goals, so I'm lucky I got one," Venturini said.

The United States took a 2-0 lead in the 62nd minute when reserve midfielder Tiffany Roberts, just inserted into the game for Milbrett, tried to feed Hamm. But Hamm, bounced around by elbows all game, was taken down by defender Annika Niessvold, and the ball rolled to MacMillan, who converted.

Sweden got on the board two minutes later, however, when defender Carla Overbeck deflected a free kick into her own goal.

Then in the 80th minute, Hamm challenged Swedish goalkeeper Annelie Nilsson for a ball in the air and the two fell in a heap. "I was going up, she came in, I didn't see her and she came into my back," said Nilsson, who was booed every time she touched the ball thereafter. "I don't know what happened. I hope she can play the next game."

MEN'S RESULTS: Japan was content to upset tournament favorite Brazil. It wanted to do the same to Nigeria.

But with the Florida Citrus Bowl teeming with Japanese fans, their flags and hundreds of colorful banners, the former African champions didn't let it happen.

Nigeria fought off a spirited Japan effort, finally scored in the 82nd minute and added a penalty-kick goal in the final minute for a 2-0 victory.

Nigeria now sits on the top of Group D with four points and will play Brazil, 3-1 winner over Hungary, on Thursday.

At the end of a 30-minute second-half spell in which Nigeria attacked the Japanese defense in droves, Tijani Babangida timed a long pass from midfielder Sunday Oliseh and guided the ball past goalkeeper Yosi Kawaguchi, off a defender and into the open net for the margin of victory.

In Washington, D.C., favored Italy lost 3-2 to Ghana, while in Birmingham, Ala., South Korea and Mexico tied 0-0.

Spain faces Australia in a Group B game tonight at 7 in the Citrus Bowl. With a win, either team would secure a spot in the second round. Tickets are $30, $25, $20 at Ticketmaster outlets; or call (813) 287-8844 or (407) 839-3900.

_ Staff writer Roger Mills and other news organizations contributed to this report.

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