Both sides were missing veterans and fielded younger players, perhaps giving a glimpse into the future of the long-time rivalry, which from the intensity and quality of the match looks bright for both countries. China played seven players who faced the USA in the first-round of the 2000 Olympics while the U.S. had just five who played in the 1-1 tie in Melbourne, Australia. With an average age of 22 years, the U.S. team played 11 players who owned 26 caps or less while China also unveiled some new talent, including the goal-scorer, Han, who came on at halftime.
The USA arrived in China late Monday night and had just two trainings to try to shake out the jet lag. The match was played at a furious pace on a rock-hard field made even slicker by the evening dew. The boisterous crowd let loose a deafening roar every time China crossed midfield and cheered on their team for the entire match.
"That was an Olympic type crowd out there in that they made so much noise out there that the players can't hear each other," said U.S. head coach April Heinrichs. "But that's a great environment for our younger players to step into."
The supremely skilled Chinese showed their trademark ball possession to create several dangerous chances in the first half, only to be denied by Pagliarulo, who came up with a handful of world-class saves. Under pressure from the charging Chinese, she was quick off her line to smother numerous skipping through balls and ruled the air in the penalty box, catching or punching a half-dozen crosses.
In the 17th minute, China took a short corner and worked the ball to the top of the penalty box for a blistering shot. The ball was deflected in goalmouth traffic and was headed into the right corner before Pagliarulo recovered to palm the ball outside the right post for a corner kick. One minute later, China worked the ball through the U.S. defense and Pagliarulo came up huge on the breakaway, closing the angle and sliding to save a driven shot. While the USA had trouble penetrating the Chinese back four, the hosts found just as much difficulty against the USA's speedy back line of Kate Sobrero, Christie Pearce and Thori Staples, who gave way to Keri Raygor at halftime.
Sobrero captained the national team for the first time and was a rock in the middle of the defense, helping repel numerous Chinese attacks while winning more than her share of 50/50 balls. The U.S. managed just one shot in the first half on a free-kick after Tiffeny Milbrett was fouled at the edge of the penalty box, but Lorrie Fair put her shot just over the top.
China had a golden chance in the 35th minute when Pu Wei sent a delicate chip into the penalty box from the right. Pagliarulo went for the cross, but Bai Jie beat her to the ball and clipped a header just past the left post.
In stoppage time of the first half, Milbrett blocked a China clearance and charged after the bouncing ball, forcing Chinese goalkeeper Han Wenxia to head the ball clear as Milbrett bundled into her.
China came after the U.S. in the beginning of the second half, earning several corner kicks in the first 10 minutes. In the 55th minute, the referee ruled that a crossed ball had hit the hand of a U.S. defender and whistled a penalty kick. Pagliarulo guessed left, but Bai Jie hit a screamer off the right post and the rebound was cleared away by the U.S. defense.
"I'm thrilled for these players and this team," said Heinrichs, who captained the U.S. team in its first-ever Women's World Cup match on this same field in 1991 against Sweden. "They played inspiring soccer. They went after China and we were under a great deal of pressure, but still found a way to be zero-zero with one minute left. In some ways, that made it more difficult to lose because we really were getting better during the course of the game. We made some adjustments at halftime and I was very pleased with the improvement."
Heinrichs made two substitutions at halftime, sending on Jennifer Lalor for Mary-Frances Monroe and Raygor for Bryan. She also gave second-half minutes to Aleisha Cramer, Jenny Benson and Stephanie Rigamat, with Cramer and Lalor helping the U.S. grab a hold of possession in the midfield and make a run at the end.
The U.S. team had found possession difficult during the high-speed match, but settled into a better rhythm in the final 20 minutes and had several chances to score. The best came with 15 minute left when Jena Kluegel slipped a pass into the penalty box for Rigamat, but with just Han to beat, she drove it straight at the goalkeeper.
With the game seemingly headed for a draw, one last push by China down the right flank caused a ball to roll free to Han at the top of the penalty box and she smashed her 22-yard shot just under the crossbar. Pagliarulo got a piece of the ball, but couldn't turn it over the top as it stuck into the roof of the net.
"The Chinese played magnificent soccer," added Heinrichs. "They send runners from everywhere and their ability to control the ball is phenomenal. It is wonderful to watch and something that we try to learn from."
Forward Meredith Florance, who ran hard the entire match, Benson and Rigamat each earned their first cap for the full national team, while Kluegel and Monroe were playing in just their fourth games. Kluegel put in a quality night's work on the right flank, matching Chinese superstar Zhao Lihong stride for stride and tackle for tackle.
"We were fortunate to win the game," said Chinese head coach Ma Yaunan, who also substituted liberally. "We have played the USA many times and have lost most of the games, but today we were lucky. We too learn much from the USA as far as their aggression and fighting spirit."
The USA will travel to Hangzhou tomorrow, train on Saturday and then face China again on Sunday, Jan. 14, at Huang Lung Stadium. Kickoff is 2 p.m. local time (1 a.m. ET).
"What was most exciting to me was that even with just two days of training, we put together a performance that was worthy of a tie against China," added Heinrichs. "I was committed to playing several players regardless of the score because with the Women's World Cup two and a half years away, right now the process is more important than the result."
2001 U.S. WOMEN'S NATIONAL TEAM GAME REPORT
|Participants:||U.S. Women's National Team vs. China National Team|
|Venue:||Yingdong Stadium - Panyu, China|
|Date:||January 11, 2001 - Kickoff 8:00 p.m. Local (7:00 a.m. ET)|
|Weather:||Cool, misty - 64 degrees|
CHN - Han Duan, 90th minute.
USA - 1-Jaime Pagliarulo, 7-Thori Bryan (6-Keri Raygor, 46th), 15-Kate Sobrero (Capt.), 3-Christie Pearce, 10-Michelle French (8-Jenny Benson, 69th), 2-Lorrie Fair, 5-Nikki Serlenga (12-Aleisha Cramer, 64th), 14-Mary-Frances Monroe (11-Jennifer Lalor, 46th), 13-Jena Kluegel, 9-Meredith Florance (17-Stephanie Rigamat, 75th), 16-Tiffeny Milbrett.
CHN - 1-Han Wenxia, 4-Ye Shimin (5-Xie Huilin, 67th), 23-Fan Yunjie (7-Zhang Ouying, 78th), 3-Li Jie, 2-Wang Liping, 6-Zhao Lihong, 10-Liu Ying (Capt.), 15-Pan Lina (17-Shi Mengyu, 83rd), 11-Pu Wei (12-Xie Caixia, 70th), 9-Bai Jie, 8-Bai Lili (19-Han Duan, 46th).
|Tiffeny Milbrett (caution)||82|