U.S. women's soccer match with France to kick off the Games

  • Article by: JOSEPH WHITE
  • Associated Press
  • July 24, 2012 - 8:38 PM

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - More than 400 miles from center stage, the coach of the U.S. women's football team leaned toward the microphone and gave her own musical opening to the Olympic Games.

"Have a little faith in me," sang Pia Sundhage, channeling John Hiatt in perfect pitch -- complete with a soulful flourish at the end.

The competitive portion of the London Games begins Wednesday, two days before the Opening Ceremony and far removed from the nonstop Olympic freneticism of the British capital. Football is one of two sports that starts early -- archery is the other -- because the extra days are needed to play a sufficient slate of games that doesn't wear out the players.

The Americans start group play against France at historic Hampden Park, the only Scottish venue for the Summer Games.

The two-time defending champions will have to reach the gold-medal game to be assured of playing in London, and they won't be attending Friday's opening ceremony because they have an afternoon game against Colombia in Glasgow the next day.

"It's too much on the body and the mind to fly back and forth. The focus is on the Games and that's the most important thing," captain Christie Rampone said.

Starting early means a quicker end to the agonizing wait, which is a good thing for the Americans.

"You can feel the tension start to rise," goalkeeper Hope Solo said. "It's a good, positive energy, and people are going into tackles harder. It's like, 'unleash the beast.' We're waiting for somebody to unleash us."

And, of course, a game played before the opening ceremony counts just as much as the ones that are played afterward, and this one is a big one. France finished fourth at last year's World Cup after giving the Americans a scare in the semifinals and is riding a 17-game winning streak. Even though the U.S. is considered the gold medal favorite, it's not inconceivable to see an early upset that throws the tournament wide open.

"It won't be that easy for the USA to win against us," France coach Bruno Bini said. "It will be a really tough match."

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