Other Sports
Olympic Daily Preview - Thursday, August 12
By The Source
Aug 12, 2004

Athens, Greece (Sports Network) - The best story in Greece on Thursday will play out more than three hours away from Athens in the western city of Patras.

That's where the Iraqi soccer team begins its quest for Olympic glory with an opening round Group D match against a heavily-favored Portugese team at Pampeloponnisiako Stadium.

Iraq hasn't fielded an Olympic team of any kind since the 1988 games, and it will face the star power of a Portugal squad led by Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo, VFB Stuttgart's Fernando Meira and Fulham's Luis Boa Morte.

"We brought the best players we have available," Portugal coach Jose Pratas said. "Our target is the gold medal."

But despite his enthusiasm, Pratas isn't celebrating a win just yet. He remains cautious about the prospects of facing the Iraqis, considered by many to be the sentimental favorite in these Games.

"I do not think they are as weak a team as they say," said Pratas, who has only seen the Iraqis play on video. "Their game is very smart and they are very organized."

In other soccer action, Paraguay will face Japan and Ghana will meet Italy in Group B action, and Costa Rica will play Morocco in a Group D match.

Also on Thursday, the International Tennis Federation will conduct draws for the Olympic Games with a notable name missing among the athletes on the women's side.

On Wednesday, defending doubles gold medalist Serena Williams announced her withdrawal from the Games, becoming the second high-profile American to pull out in as many days after Jennifer Capriati withdrew Tuesday.

The draws for men's and women's singles will be 64, while the doubles draws will feature 32 pairs apiece. Justine Henin-Hardenne of Belgium and Roger Federer of Switzerland have been named the top seeds for singles.

Henin-Hardenne, a winner of three tournaments this year, including the Australian Open, hasn't been in an event since the French Open in late May. According to her coach, Carlos Rodriguez, Henin-Hardenne has been out of action for about three months due to a viral infection.

"It is very important for her to start playing again," Rodriguez said. "She is very happy to compete in the Athens Olympic Games. She dreams of winning the gold medal. Immediately after the first match we will be able to know whether Justine can manage to take a medal."

Federer has captured five events this year, including the Australian Open and Wimbledon. He is currently ranked No. 1 in the world.

There will be another pre-Opening Ceremony event Thursday when ranking rounds for the archery competition take place at Dekelia Air Force Base. The ranking round is a 72-arrow test of skill and stamina that will determine the seedings for elimination rounds.

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