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The Four Nations Tournament - A Look Back

The Four Nations Tournament in China has been a popular event for the U.S. Women’s National Team over the years. It served a dual purpose after China was awarded the 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2000 and then the 2008 Beijing Olympics in 2001, giving the USA valuable experience in China as well as top-flight international experience in adverse conditions for the players. The awarding of those tournaments meant nearly eight years of preparing for the most important of matches to be held in China (surprisingly packed into just two years when the 2003 WWC was moved to the USA, and FIFA gave the 2007 version to China instead), but the competition has always given the Americans excellent matches to start a year.

Playing in the cold against quality teams thousands of miles from home has given many American players a stage to show their international class and several have made their debuts here. Lauren Cheney, Tobin Heath, Becky Sauerbrunn and Amy LePeilbet, to name four, got their first caps here, while Amy Rodriguez and Lindsay Tarpley scored their first two career goals at the Four Nations, with Tarpley’s coming against Sweden, the USA’s first opponent this year. After the Beijing Olympics, China’s run of hosting women’s soccer world championships is over for the foreseeable future, but there are still good games to be had during the chilly January. After skipping the event in 2009 and 2010, the USA is back and looking for its seventh all-time title at a tournament which 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, site of the USA’s triumph over Norway in the first-ever Women’s World Cup Final. The USA beat Sweden, 3-0, to start the tournament with nine of the 11 players in the lineup that would start the first game of the 1999 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 (coincidentally the same score through regulation and overtime of the 1999 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 of the teams since the USA knocked the Norwegians out of the 1996 Olympics in the semifinal.

2002 – USA, Norway, Germany, China
The Americans did not return to the Four Nations Tournament until four years later. In 1999, the Americans were preparing to host the Women’s World Cup. In January of 2000, the USA 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. Instead, 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 1-0 to Norway, the fourth of five straight losses to their long-time rival (the U.S. has since won 11 of the last 12 meetings). It was the USA’s first of only two losses ever in the tournament. The USA then tied Germany 0-0 and a 2-0 win against China in Guangzhou on goals from Tiffeny Milbrett and Shannon MacMillan was not enough to take top honors.

2003 – USA, Norway, China, Germany
At the time the USA traveled to China, the players assumed they would be playing the Women’s World Cup there in a few months, but the tournament 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-career 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 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 Four Nations that 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 at the full international level. Another 0-0 tie with China followed, but the USA won the tournament with a 2-0 win against 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 transition in head coaches. The team returned in 2006, once again back to Guangzhou, and started with a 3-1 win against 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 France 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 and Christie Rampone 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.

2008 – USA, Canada, Finland, China
The USA played a dominating tournament in Guangzhou at the massive Guangdong Olympic Sports Center Stadium. In Christie Rampone’s first game as captain and Pia Sundhage’s first game as head coach, the USA scored four second half goals, two from Amy Rodriguez (her first career goals) and two from Lindsay Tarpley, to defeat Canada 4-0. Heather O’Reilly assisted on the first three goals. The game marked the first career caps for defenders Becky Sauerbrunn and Ali Krieger. The USA then rolled over Finland 4-1, as Lauren Cheney scored twice and Tarpley and Angie Wonzuk added scores to set up a clash with China for the title. Shannon Boxx scored the USA’s lone goal of the game in the 1-0 victory against the host. Tarpley was the Top Scorer, O’Reilly won Best Player and Pia Sundhage, in her first tournament as head coach of the USA, was the Best Coach. The USA also won the Fair Play Award.