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Iraqis hail berth in Olympic soccer

Times Staff and Wire Reports
Published May 13, 2004

Iraq's soccer team, whose players were brutalized and whose stadium was used as a torture chamber under the regime of Saddam Hussein, qualified for the Athens Olympics Wednesday.

A 3-1 victory over Saudi Arabia in Amman, Jordan, coupled with a 0-0 draw between Kuwait and Oman gave Iraq its first Olympic berth in the world's most popular sport.

"Simply stated, this is the biggest moment in Iraqi Olympic history," Ahmed Al-Samarrai, president of the Iraqi Olympic Committee, said in a statement.

Gunfire echoed through Baghdad streets and flares and tracer rounds lit the sky as Iraqis celebrated the victory, Agence France Presse reported.

The 24-member squad will join at least six other Iraqi athletes - five men and one woman - in track, boxing, swimming, tae kwon do and weightlifting who qualified or were invited by the International Olympic Committee and sports federations.

The IOC in February reinstated the Iraqi Olympic panel a year after suspending the agency over allegations that Uday Hussein, one of the former president's sons, used the sports office as a headquarters for torture and corruption. Soccer players were among the athletes who said they were beaten and otherwise abused when they returned from losses in international events.

NO MORE DOUBTS: The last-gasp work to prepare Athens for the Summer Games got a vote of confidence from the International Olympic Committee's chief inspector. "In the past, we had doubts ... and I am very happy to report all these doubts have disappeared," Denis Oswald said at the close of the IOC's final major visit before the Aug. 13-29 Olympics. Meantime, Premier Costas Caramanlis warned Greek businesses not to hike prices during the Games, promising that the government will crack down on profiteering.

UCONN PLAYERS ADDED: Diana Taurasi and Swin Cash, who helped Connecticut win NCAA basketball championships, now have a chance to win gold. They were added to the U.S. women's team that will play New Zealand in its Olympics opener Aug. 14 in Athens. One spot on the 12-member team is still open. ... Orlando Magic star Tracy McGrady, who had said representing his country in the Olympics was a childhood dream, is leaning toward pulling out of the Games. The Orlando Sentinel quoted sources close to McGrady as saying security concerns have caused him to waver. He declined to comment Wednesday.

TENNIS: Fish to miss French Open

Tampa's Mardy Fish, the world's 20th-ranked men's player and a member of the U.S. Davis Cup team, has withdrawn from the upcoming French Open because of tendinitis in his left hip. He was injured at the U.S. Clay Court Championships last month in Houston and hasn't played since. Fish, 22, is 10-8 in singles and 10-1 in doubles this season and won the doubles title at the U.S. Clay Championships with Tampa's James Blake. Fish hopes to begin practicing next week and plans to return to the tour at the June 7 Gerry Weber Open in Halle, Germany. Meantime, Blake's status for the French remains in doubt, an ATP official said. Blake sustained head and spine injuries last week in Rome after slamming into the net post while chasing a drop shot during practice.

ITALIAN OPEN: Jennifer Capriati and Amelie Mauresmo won second-round matches in Rome. The fifth-seeded Capriati dismissed Venezuela's Maria Vento-Kabchi 6-2, 6-1 in just 45 minutes and No. 2 Mauresmo beat childhood rival Nathalie Dechy 7-5, 6-3. Two other highly seeded players lost: No. 3 Anastasia Myskina to Elena Likhovtseva 7-5, 1-6, 6-3, and No. 4 Nadia Petrova to wild-card entry Flavia Pennetta 1-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-4.

HAMBURG MASTERS: Top-ranked Roger Federer eased into the third round and defending champion Guillermo Coria extended his winning streak on clay to 28 matches. Federer, winner of two of the last three Grand Slam events, needed just an hour to dispatch Nicolas Lapentti 6-3, 6-3. Coria, seeded second, beat Luis Horna 6-2, 3-6, 6-2.

USTA EVENT: Michael Russell upset top-seeded Paul Goldstein 6-2, 6-3 to reach the quarterfinals of the Forest Hills Clay Court Classic in New York.

SOFTBALL: USF, UF players honored

USF's Leigh Ann Ellis, Carmela Liwag and Holly Groves were named first-team all-Conference USA. Shelly Riker was selected to the second team, and Danielle Urbanik was named to the all-freshman team. Ellis also was chosen as the league's pitcher of the year. ... Florida senior pitcher Jenny Gladding, senior second baseman Mylin Prieto and freshman first baseman Melissa Zick earned second-team all-SEC honors. Zick, shortstop Lauren Roussell and catcher Michelle Diaz were named to the all-freshmen team.

SOCCER: U.S. ranked 8th in world

The United States tied an all-time high by moving up three spots to eighth place in the FIFA world rankings. The Americans first achieved that ranking in September 2002. Brazil, France and Spain remained the top three teams, followed by the Netherlands, Argentina, Mexico, Turkey, the United States, Germany and the Czech Republic.

CAMEROON CASE: Cameroon is in danger of missing the 2006 World Cup after the sport's governing body upheld an April penalty for wearing bodysuit uniforms in the African Cup of Nations earlier this year. It also penalized the team six points in the second round of African qualifying for the World Cup. Cameroon is the first African nation to qualify five times for soccer's biggest event.

2010 CUP VOTE: Four years after losing to Germany by one vote in bidding for the 2006 World Cup, South Africa is a strong favorite to host the 2010 event. FIFA decided to hold the Cup in Africa for the first time, and there are five candidates: South Africa, Morocco, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. The vote is Saturday in Zurich, Switzerland.

ET CETERA

CYCLING: Italy's Alessandro Petacchi outsprinted several others to win the fourth stage of the Giro d'Italia, the second leg he has won in four days. Defending champion Gilberto Simoni of Italy finished the 114-mile race from Porretta Terme to Civitella Val di Chiana in the same time and retained the overall lead.

HOCKEY: The United States will be in the same group as defending champion Canada to start the 2005 world championships. The two also will play Latvia and Slovenia in group matches in Innsbruck, Austria.

RUNNING: Bob Kennedy, who holds American records in the 3,000 and 5,000 meters and will attempt to qualify for his third Olympics later this summer, this time in the 10,000, will make his marathon debut in the Nov. 7 New York City Marathon. He has put off running a marathon for several reasons, most notably a string of bad luck that hampered him from 2000-02.

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