Tough draw for hosts in ’04 soccer

Greece was matched up against several strong teams yesterday in the draw for the men’s and women’s Olympic soccer tournament. In the men’s groupings, Greece will face South Korea and Mexico in the preliminary round. Mali is also in the group. In the women’s preliminaries, the hosts will be up against the twin powerhouses of Brazil and the United States, the silver medalist in Sydney. Australia rounds out the group. The 2000 gold-medal winners – Cameroon for the men and Norway for the women – did not qualify. Iraq, who were only reinstated by the International Olympic Committee in February, were drawn in a potentially tough men’s group. The Iraqis, to play in Group D, will play European heavyweights Portugal, Costa Rica and Morocco in the pool stages of the tournament. The Iraqi team unexpectedly reached Athens after a 3-1 win over Saudi Arabia last month, sparking wild celebrations and gunfire. They had been forced to play qualifying matches in neighboring Kuwait as it was deemed too dangerous to play in Baghdad. Athens chief organizer Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki said soccer had sold more tickets than any other tournament, with close to a million already snapped up. Preliminary matches at the August 13-29 Olympics will be played in Thessaloniki, Patras, Volos and Iraklion. «We believe the residents of the four cities will embrace the soccer games,» Angelopoulos said. The women’s final will be staged at the Karaiskaki stadium in Athens on August 26 with the men’s at the main Olympic stadium in Athens two days later. (AP, Reuters)