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U.S. WNT Arrives in Guangzhou, China, as Wednesday's Four Nations Opener vs. Norway Approaches

U.S. WOMEN ARRIVE IN CHINA FOR FOUR NATIONS TOURNAMENT: The U.S. Women’s National Team arrived in China late Wednesday evening, (Jan. 11), after a 23-hour hotel-to-hotel journey from Los Angeles (where the team completed a week-long training camp) that began on Tuesday morning. The 15-plus hour flight to Hong Kong was actually one of the smoothest and easiest the U.S. players have endured to China. The two-hour bus ride from Hong Kong to Guangzhou was seemingly harder, as it included two border check points, one leaving Hong Kong, and one entering mainland China, but even those were relatively short, and the team pulled into the hotel around 10:30 p.m. The U.S. team is staying at a hotel that is part of a sprawling 10-million square foot athletic complex that features the spectacular 80,000-seat Guangdong Olympic Stadium, where all the matches of the Four Nations Tournament will be played. Some of the players’ rooms even look out into the stadium, luxury box style. The Chinese team has been in Guangzhou since Dec. 19, training in one of their notoriously long and grueling camps. Norway and France have not arrived yet, but will roll into town over the next two days. The eyes of the women’s soccer world will be on Guangzhou for the three match days of the tournament as the competition features four of the world’s top 10 teams. The USA is ranked second in the most recent FIFA Women’s World Rankings, Norway is third, France is fifth and host China is ninth.

1991 WOMEN’S WORLD CUP FINAL REMATCH ON THE DOCKET: On January 18, 2006, Guangzhou, China, will once again be the site of a USA-Norway match. The first match in Guangzhou between the two teams came on November 30, 1991, as the USA defeated Norway for the inaugural Women’s World Cup title in front of 65,000 fans. Michelle Akers scored both U.S. goals in the 2-1 win. The USA and Norway have played one other time in Guangzhou, a 3-0 U.S. win on January 24, 1998, in the USA’s first match in China since that 1991 game. Both previous matches were played at Tianhe Stadium. The rivalry heads to a new venue at the Guangdong Olympic Stadium, built in 2001 for the Ninth National Games of the People’s Republic of China. The award winning stadium design was “created as an icon that relates to the physical environment and history of the 2000-year-old city. Guanghzou is known as the “Flower City” and the stadium bowl grows out of the ground to a sculpted upper edge, like the petals of a flower. Floating above the bowl is a shimmering ribbon of roof flowing like a wave over the seats. The wave of the roof is reminiscent of Guangzhou’s Pearl River, as well as a finish line ribbon broken by a victories runner.” You can’t make this stuff up.

2006 Four Nations Tournament - Guangdong Olympic Stadium, Guangzhou, China
Jan. 18 USA vs. Norway   1:30 p.m. local / 12:30 a.m. ET
China vs. France                4 p.m. local / 3 a.m. ET

Jan. 20 USA vs. France 1:30 p.m. local / 12:30 a.m. ET
China vs. Norway 4 p.m. local / 3 a.m. ET

Jan. 22 France vs. Norway 1:30 p.m. local / 12:30 a.m. ET
USA vs. China 4 p.m. local / 3 a.m. ET

CAP-TASTIC: A moment thought previously impossible is just a few days from becoming reality as U.S. captain Kristine Lilly is poised to play in her mind-boggling 300th game for the United States. Should Lilly play against Norway in the USA’s opening match on January 18, she will become the first player, man or woman, to play 300 times for her country. To see more fun facts and figures on the legendary midfielder, as well as a photo gallery, a podcast and other features, go to “Kristine Lilly Countdown to 300” on FIFA will commemorate the historic achievement as Mr. Makudi Worawi of Thailand, the Chairman of the Committee for Women’s Football and FIFA Women’s Competitions, will travel to China and be on hand to make a special presentation to Lilly. Worawi was one of the main forces behind staging an excellent and highly successful FIFA U-19 Women’s World Championship in Thailand in 2004.

LILLY KNOWS CHINA, GUANGZHOU: The city of Guangzhou has a special place in the history of the U.S. Women’s National Team as the USA won the 1991 Women’s World Cup here just over 14 years ago, a fact that was brought up by the Chinese media who interviewed Lilly as the USA arrived at its hotel on Wednesday night. Lilly is the only active player left from that legendary 1991 team that defeated Norway in the championship game. The USA has actually played six games in Guangzhou over the years, including the semifinal and final at that inaugural Women’s World Cup, making it one of the most played-in foreign cities in U.S. Women’s Soccer history.

PEEL OFF THE SWEATS: The U.S. team has encountered something not previously felt in the numerous January trips to China in recent years…heat. And we’re talking about hot heat. Humid, dripping, sweat-drenched, eyes burning from the sunscreen, lungs burning from the smog, 80-degree heat. In fact, the U.S. team wore its sleeveless training jerseys on Thursday for perhaps the first time ever in China. Add in the hardness of the training fields and the U.S. team has quickly shaken off the fatigue of travel as they become accustomed to the 13-hour time difference from the East Coast of the United States. The Americans are hoping the heat wave continues through its three matches, as the tournament has previously featured some of the coldest games the U.S. team has played in recent memory.

BIG’IN GETS MVP: The U.S. team played an 11 v. 11 scrimmage on a hot, muggy Thursday morning, and due to a few bangs and bruises, and a 20-player roster, several staff members were forced to fill out the side. Following the 30-minute tussle, the U.S. players agreed that “50-something” goalkeeper coach, the legendary “Big” Bill Irwin, had earned Defensive MVP honors for his work at right back. While Irwin earned much acclaim in his 17-year career as a professional goalkeeper in England and in the NASL with the Washington Diplomats, Dallas Tornado, Portland Timbers and San Jose Earthquakes, the Director of Soccer at the University of Portland showed he can still get up and down the flank a bit…well at least up it. Said Irwin before the match: “I may get forward, but if I do, I’m not coming back.” Irwin’s only defensive blunder may have occurred when he tumbled over the end line while unsuccessfully trying to stop Abby Wambach from getting off a cross. Rumor has it that the Chinese needed to bring in a crane to get him off the ground.

STROLL DOWN BEIJING ROAD: The U.S. team got out of the hotel for the first time on Friday afternoon, taking a bus ride to Beijing Road, one of the main shopping districts of downtown Guangzhou. The trip also included a stop at Starbucks, one of the few places in China where the employees and the U.S. players speak the same language, that of the latte, decaf and frappuchino. Almost all of the U.S. players indulged in the elixirs of home before heading out for some shopping on the bustling Beijing Road, where goods are available in the form of almost anything you can imagine – including designer handbags, a myriad of electronics and bushels of knock-off watches -- to some things you can’t, like fried squid on a stick. One of the more amazing features of Beijing Road was a museum-like display of a street excavation protected by clear plastic covers that revealed part of an ancient street and base of several long-gone gates, which are just a little older than anything the players have seen in the United States, dating back more than 1,200 years.

SUN AND LIL: The day after the U.S. arrival in Guangzhou, a Chinese newspaper requested a photo with legendary midfielders Kristine Lilly and China’s Sun Wen, who is making a comeback after two years away from the team. She worked as a journalist in Shanghai during her hiatus. Sun, who dazzled U.S. audiences during her prime at the 1999 Women’s World Cup, retired after the 2003 Women’s World Cup, but is making a comeback at the behest of China’s new coach Ma Liangxing (who is also their old coach, having led the team in the 2003 WWC). She spent six months in the United States last year studying English at the University of Illinois in Champagne. Said the always-humble Sun, whose career in the WUSA with the Atlanta Beat was hampered by injuries: “I’m hoping to be the super-sub.”

FOUR NATIONS MATCHES WILL HAVE WIDE TV AUDIENCE: While the matches, which kickoff in the wee hours of the morning in the United States, will not be on TV in North America, the Four Nations matches will have a large TV audience world-wide. All six matches will be shown live across China on CCTV Channel 5, the sports Channel of Chinese Central Television. With two of the top teams from Europe (France and Norway) also in the competition, all matches will also be broadcast throughout Europe on Eurosport 2, showing that women’s soccer is continuing to grow on a most-important medium, in two of the most-important markets, the soccer crazy continents of Asia and Europe.

RYLIE RAMPONE QUITE POPULAR IN CHINA: With her baby girl in her arms and nanny/husband Chris at her side, U.S. defender Christie Rampone has been the object of much attention by the Chinese media and the hotel workers, who are cooing over baby Rylie almost as much as Rampone’s teammates (also known as 19 babysitters). When the U.S. team arrived, the hotel did not have a proper crib, so they went out and bought a high-end model, complete with hanging baby toys. Rampone will be looking to play in her first match for the USA since Nov. 6, 2004, after having her daughter last September.

If Kristine Lilly plays against Norway on January 18, it will be her 30th match against the Norwegians, the most ever against any opponent in her 18-year career. She has also played 29 times against Canada and China.

Quote of the Week:
U.S. midfielder Lindsay Tarpley struggles with the language barrier in China.

“Ummm…Cinco, por favor?

-Lindsay Tarpley on the elevator trying, and failing, to get a Chinese man to push the button for her floor.