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The Four Nations Tournament - A Look Back

GUANGZHOU, China (January 10, 2008) - The Four Nations Tournament in China has become an almost annual event for the U.S. Women’s National Team, not a surprise since China was awarded the 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2000 and then the 2008 Beijing Olympics in 2001. That meant nearly eight years of preparing for the most important of matches in China. Surprisingly, it was packed into just two years when the 2003 WWC was moved to the USA, and FIFA gave the 2007 version to China instead. But suffice it to say that the Four Nations Tournament has served as valuable preparation for the American players. After the Olympics, China’s run of hosting women’s soccer world championships will be seemingly over for the foreseeable future. Whether the U.S. team returns to the Far East with the frequency of the past six years remains to be seen, but the Four Nations has been the site of some historic and interesting events in U.S. Women’s National Team history.

1998 – USA, Sweden, China, Norway
This was the USA’s first trip to China since winning the 1991 FIFA Women’s World Cup and the matches were held at Tianhe Stadium in Guanzhou, site of the USA’s triumph over Norway in the Women’s World Cup Final. The USA beat Sweden, 3-0, to start the tournament with nine of the 11 players that would start the first game of the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup a year and a half later. (Kate Sobrero, now Kate Markgraf, had not yet debuted and Michelle Akers was not on the trip). The USA tied China in the second game 0-0, ironically the same score through regulation and overtime of the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final, before rolling over Norway, 3-0, to win the tournament on goals by Tisha Venturini, Cindy Parlow and Mia Hamm. The match against Norway was the first meeting between the teams since the USA knocked the Norwegians out of the 1996 Olympics in the semifinal.

2002 – USA, Norway, Germany, China
After 1998, the Americans did not return to the Four Nations Tournament until four years later. In 1999, the USA was preparing to host the FIFA Women’s World Cup. In January of 2000, the U.S. Women went to Australia to prepare for the 2000 Olympics. In 2001, the USA did travel to China in January, but the tournament wasn’t held that year. The USA played China twice in exhibitions, losing 1-0 and tying 1-1, which brings us to 2002, the only year the team has failed to win the tournament to date. The USA lost its opening game to Norway, 1-0, the fourth of five straight losses to their long-time rival (the U.S. has since won the last seven meetings). It was the USA’s first of only two all-time losses in the tournament. The USA then tied Germany, 0-0, but a 2-0 win over China in Guangzhou on goals from Tiffeny Milbrett and Shannon MacMillan was not enough to take top honors.

2003 – USA, Norway, China, Germany
This time when the USA traveled to China, they assumed they would be playing the 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup there, but it would be moved to the USA shortly thereafter. The USA opened the tournament with a resounding 3-1 win over Norway on goals by Tiffeny Milbrett, defender Thori Bryan (her only career goal, coming off a header) and the second-ever goal from Heather O’Reilly. The U.S. team, ravaged by a stomach virus that hit half the team, lost 2-0 to China in front of 40,000, the largest-ever crowd for a U.S. game at the Four Nations. The loss meant the USA needed a win over Germany in its last game in Shanghai at the stadium that would eventually host the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final and Third-Place match. The USA scored on a perfectly-executed set play from three Santa Clara Broncos, with the ball going from Aly Wagner to Brandi Chastain to Devin Hawkins. It was the only National Team goal Hawkins would score in just nine career matches with the USA.

2004 – USA, Sweden, China, Canada
The only time the Four Nations had matches played in February, all the games were staged in Shenzhen, just north of Hong Kong. The USA started the tournament with a solid 3-0 win over Sweden that saw two goals from Lindsay Tarpley, her first ever scores at the full International level. Yet another 0-0 tie with China followed, but the USA won the tournament with a 2-0 win over Canada as Joy Fawcett tallied a rare score and Tarpley added her third goal of the competition. The Four Nations gave the USA some excellent preparation for 2004 Olympic Qualifying, which started in late February in Costa Rica.

2006 – USA, Norway, France, China
The USA did not go to the Four Nations in 2005, coming off a long Olympic year and during a transition in head coaches, but returned in 2006, once again back to Guangzhou, and started with a 3-1 win over Norway on goals from Shannon Boxx, Abby Wambach and Kristine Lilly, who scored a spectacular free kick in her historic 300th career match. The USA tied a feisty French side that played a smart defensive game to earn a 0-0 draw, setting up a title game against China. Kristine Lilly, in one of her many virtuoso performances, scored both goals as the USA won 2-0 to win its fifth Four Nations title.

2007 – USA, Germany, England, China
In a tournament that featured four teams who would be quarterfinalists at the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the U.S. traveled to the Four Nations with a young squad as veterans Kristine Lilly, Abby Wambach, Christie Rampone and Aly Wagner were not on the roster. The USA tied full-strength teams from Germany (0-0) and England (1-1 on a goal from Heather O’Reilly) before once again facing China, also at full strength, with the title on the line. The USA got goals from Lori Chalupny on a blast from outside the penalty box and a clinching goal from Natasha Kai to win 2-0.

Four Nations Facts:

  • Of the 18 matches the USA has played in the Four Nations Tournament, 10 of those have been in Guangzhou. Shenzhen has hosted three matches with Huadu, Panyu, Yiwu, Wuhan and Shanghai hosting one match each.
  • All of the matches but two have been played in January. In 2004, the first match was on January 30 and the latter two in the first part of February.
  • The USA has, of course, played China in all six previous tournaments, going 3-1-2.
  • During the 18 matches, the USA has gone 10-2-6, with one loss to China and one to Norway.
  • The USA has played seven different countries in the tournament: China, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Canada, France and England.
  • Goals are hard to come by at the Four Nations, a tournament that has often featured the top teams in the world. The USA has scored just 26 goals in 18 games (an average of less than a goal and a half per game). Of those 26 goals, nine came from players on the 2008 Four Nations roster.

Career Goal Scorers at the Four Nations Tournament
Tiffeny Milbrett (4), Lindsay Tarpley (3), Kristine Lilly (3), Shannon Boxx (2), Heather O’Reilly (2), Tisha Venturini (2), Thori Bryan, Lori Chalupny, Joy Fawcett, Mia Hamm, Devin Hawkins, Natasha Kai, Debbie Keller, Shannon MacMillan, Cindy Parlow, Abby Wambach.