Author Topic: It's the United States vs. China again — this time in Four Nations  (Read 1007 times)

Offline David

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GUANGZHOU, China: Mention the United States vs. China in women's soccer, and fading memories freshen of the '99 World Cup.

"Somebody always brings it up," said Briana Scurry, the goalkeeper who saved a Chinese penalty in a shootout in the title game, giving the Americans a 5-4 victory on penalties after a 0-0 draw.

"The days leading up to that game were amazing, we realized people across the country were taking notice of us," Scurry added.

Chinese defender Liu Yali recalls it too. She watched as a youngster on TV in China.

"This might have been the greatest game in the history of women's soccer," Liu said.

Again, it's the United States vs. China, this time in the Four Nations tournament with Germany against England in the other game on Tuesday in southern China.

Playing amid swaying palm in a southern California-like climate, this tournament in 80,000-seat Guangdong stadium is a mere warmup for China's World Cup in 7 1/2 months.

These stakes are low. The Americans have left five starters home, a chance for young talent to emerge. The Chinese have 80 percent of their team, which is beset with coaching problems and rumors.

"We're not quite sure what we're going to get from China, and likewise from my team," U.S. coach Greg Ryan said.

The Americans are No. 2 in the world ranking behind defending World Cup champion Germany. China is No. 9, and all three will be World Cup contenders along with Brazil, Norway, Sweden and North Korea.

The Americans are unbeaten in their last six games against China, the most recent a 4-1 victory last year in Chicago. In 35 games, the Americans have won 16, drawn 11 and lost eight.

The young Americans drew 0-0 with Germany and 1-1 against No. 12-ranked England in their two Four Nations games. China beat England 2-0, but was outplayed in a 0-0 draw with Germany.

With star striker Abby Wambach and Kristine Lilly resting at home, Ryan has come to China searching for a third striker. He's also looking for goals in the midfield, and watching the battle at keeper between Scurry and rival Hope Solo.

"We'll put out a very strong team, it won't be mix and match as much," Ryan said. "It will be as close to the best side we can get barring injured players or players who are just really tired."

Lindsay Tarpley, Natasha Kia, Heather O'Reilly, Lauren Cheney and Casey Nogueira are candidates for No. 3, and they've all played. O'Reilly scored against England. A consistent pairing at midfield has been Lori Chalupny and Leslie Osborne.

Kathryn Markgraf has led the defense. She's the only player on this squad, other than Scurry, who played in the '99 game.

Like every Chinese athlete, there's mounting pressure from the upcoming 2008 Beijing Olympics, which promises to bring China more medals than anyone else — even the United States.

"This World Cup in China and the Olympics is going to mean a lot to them," Scurry said. "They are an improving team, and they are thinking: 'This is our World Cup, this could be our opportunity.'"

China has lost some of its stature, with North Korea now ranked No. 1 in Asia. A loss last month to Japan in the Asian Games put pressure on coach Ma Liangyu. He's absent from the tournament. Officials say he's nursing heart problems with assistant Wang Haiming handling the team.

Veteran German coach Eckhard Krautzun arrived a week ago as a "consultant" for China and brought a German physical trainer with him.

Wang says he's simply "preparing the team for Mr. Ma's return."

"We are thinking about the game against the United States just like any other," Wang said. "The focus is down the road at the World Cup and Olympics."

"I know the '99 game is famous, but history is not so important," he added. "We are looking forward."