"We were appropriately displeased and pleased at the same time," said U.S. head coach April Heinrichs. "We created enough chances to win that game. We had wonderful opportunities to score and possessed the ball as well as I've seen this year against China. At the same time, we made some mistakes. Hopefully, we'll grow from them and do a lot of self-evaluating, and that's a healthy thing."
Of the six matches the USA and China have played during the 1995 Women's World Cup, the 1996 Olympics, the 1999 Women's World Cup and the 2000 Olympics, four have ended in ties. The only exceptions were the USA's 2-1 victory over China in the '96 gold medal game and a 2-0 victory in the Third Place match of the '95 Women's World Cup. The USA and China tied 0-0 in the first round of the 1996 Olympics and both advanced to the gold medal game. The 1999 Women's World Cup Final officially counts as a draw in the record books after the teams played scoreless soccer through regulation and overtime.
But what the American women couldn't do in 120 minutes against China last summer, they accomplished in just 38 minutes tonight, as Julie Foudy headed home a Shannon MacMillan corner kick from the right side to give the USA a 1-0 lead.
Just one minute before the goal, MacMillan had struck another corner kick from the same side. The ball flew just over Brandi Chastain to Foudy, but standing almost right on the end line, she could do nothing but volley the ball into the side netting. Tiffeny Milbrett then earned another corner kick, smacking a volley off a bouncing ball from 40 yards out that Chinese goalkeeper Gao Hong had to push over the bar.
On the ensuing kick, MacMillan drilled a cross to the far post where Foudy, engulfed in a sea of red jerseys, out-jumped four defenders in the six yard box to head the ball back across the goal into the lower right corner.
The goal energized the USA, which then created three good chances in the final five minutes of the half. In the 40th minute, MacMillan chased down a pass in the right side of the box, then slid to send a delicate chip to the far post, but Kristine Lilly drove her shot straight into the arms of Gao from a sharp angle.
One minute later, Lilly weaved her way through two Chinese defenders in the left side of the penalty box and struck a low, hard shot with her right foot from 15 yards out that drew a solid diving save from Gao. In the 43rd minute, MacMillan spun another cross in from the right flank, bending the ball behind the defense as Mia Hamm launched herself in the air in an attempt to head the ball, but a lunging Chinese boot got a piece of the ball right before it hit Hamm's head, and it flew high for a goal kick.
"China is just a marvelous attacking team," added Heinrichs. "They have tremendous possession and are so very crafty, difficult and unpredictable. Without question, they bring out the best in us."
It was a match filled with attacking ebb and flow as each team came at the other in waves, but in the end, it was the USA who had more of the play, out-shooting China 18-6 and forcing the dynamic Gao to make 12 saves.
"China is an unbelievable team, athletically and technically," said Mia Hamm. "We know they're going to possess the ball. You just have to prepare yourself for that, not get frustrated and make the most of your chances."
Although China buzzed around the U.S. attacking third the entire match, the U.S. back line of Brandi Chastain, Kate Sobrero, Joy Fawcett and Christie Pearce was again stellar, holding China to just five shots on goal. Still, there was nothing that they, or anyone in the world, could do about the spectacular free-kick from Chinese star Sun Wen in the 67th minute that tied the match. Sun's guided missile of a shot from 33 yards out was hit perfectly, and even though U.S. goalkeeper Siri Mullinix flew to the upper corner and got half a palm on the ball, she could not turn it outside the net as it hit the underside of the crossbar and fell into the goal.
"I think we did some really good things offensively," added Hamm. "We got the ball wide and attacked the flanks and you can't say enough about our defense, they are playing exceptionally well. That goal by Sun Wen, well, that's why she is the player that she is. Siri did an unbelievable job just to get a hand on it."
China's goal gave their side a spark, but the Americans weathered several Chinese forays before striking back themselves. Lilly released Tiffeny Milbrett inside the penalty box on the left side with a crafty pass, and as Milbrett went to cross the ball with the outside of her right foot, the ball struck the left hand of the sliding Fan Yunjie. Swiss referee Nicole Petignat, the same women who had officiated the 1999 Women's World Cup Final, did not hesitate to award the penalty kick.
Lilly stepped up to take the kick, and drove her shot hard, but Gao made a world class save, fully extending with a dive to her right to knock the ball down. The charging Cindy Parlow got a foot on the rebound, but Gao stretched her body on the ground to make that save as well.
"This match was a little bit like an NFL game" added Heinrichs. "You just don't really understand and appreciate how intense and physical the game is until you get down close. I had the best seat in the house."
Parlow had replaced Chastain in the 62nd minute as the USA switched to a 3-4-3 formation and had an immediate impact, striking a volley in the 63rd minute that flew high. In the 69th minute, Lilly sent a perfect cross into the middle for Parlow, but her header went straight into the sticky hands of Gao.
China, which started the same 11 players as it did in the 1999 Women's World Cup Final, made a run at a winning goal near the end of the match, but once again the U.S. repelled the onslaught and launched a sortie of its own, producing three scoring chances in the final three minutes. In the 88th minute, Parlow cracked a shot that went right to Gao. One minute later, Milbrett whipped off a strike from outside the penalty box, but once again Gao was there to snag the shot which was headed high into the upper right corner. Finally, after a scramble inside the box, Milbrett's header in the 90th minute was too soft and floated into the waiting arms of Gao, who outside of Sun Wen's moment of brilliance, was no doubt her team's MVP.
After Norway's 3-1 victory over Nigeria in the other Group F game, a win or a draw for the USA against Nigeria on Sept. 20 at the MCG will put the Americans in the semifinals. China and Norway square off in a huge match that same day in Canberra, with the loser facing the prospect of being eliminated from the tournament should the USA defeat Nigeria. A win for China over Norway would put the USA through regardless.
"What we take from these two games is that we battled hard, played our kind of game against two world class opponents and came out with a win and a tie," said Milbrett of the USA's first two Olympic matches. "If we get the job done against Nigeria, then we're through."
The USA will train tomorrow, Sept. 18, at Olympic Park at 5 p.m. local time, then will take Tuesday, Sept. 19 off before facing Nigeria on Wednesday (Kickoff 5:30 p.m. local).
2000 U.S. WOMEN'S OLYMPIC TEAM GAME REPORT
|Participants:||U.S. Women's Olympic Team vs. China|
|Competition:||2000 Olympic Games - Opening Round, Group F|
|Venue:||Melbourne Cricket Ground (Melbourne, Australia)|
|Date:||September 17, 2000 - Kickoff 5:30 p.m. (local)|
|Attendance:||58,061 (2nd largest ever to watch the U.S. women outside of the United States)|
|Weather:||66 degrees - Crisp, Clear, Breezy|
USA - Julie Foudy, (Shannon MacMillan), 38,
CHN - Sun Wen (unassisted), 67.
USA - 18-Siri Mullinix, 3-Christie Pearce, 14-Joy Fawcett, 15-Kate Sobrero, 6-Brandi Chastain (12-Cindy Parlow, 62nd), 13-Kristine Lilly, 11-Julie Foudy, 2-Lorrie Fair, 8-Shannon MacMillan (5-Nikki Serlenga, 80th), 16-Tiffeny Milbrett, 9-Mia Hamm.
CHN - 18-Gao Hong, 2-Wang Liping, 3-Fan Yunjie, 4-Bai Jie, 6-Zhao Lihong, 8-Jin Yan (17-Zhang Ouying, 61st), 9-Sun Wen, 10-Liu Ailing, 11-Pu Wei, 12-Wen Lirong, 13-Liu Ying.
|Mia Hamm (caution)||67,|
|Fan Yunjie (caution)||73.|
USA ADVANCEMENT SCENARIOS:
A win over Nigeria guarantees U.S. advancement to the semifinals, as does a China win over Norway, and in that case, the winner of Group F would come down to goal difference and then goals scored. The USA and China are tied on goal difference (the first tie-breaker) at +2, but China has scored one more goal (the second tie-breaker) than the USA. A draw with Nigeria guarantees advancement, as that would give the USA five points. If China defeats Norway, the Scandinavians would finish with just three points. If Norway defeats China, the Chinese would finish with just four points. If the USA draws with Nigeria and Norway draws with China, the USA and China would both advance with five points each, with the group winner coming down to who has scored more goals. Should the USA lose to Nigeria, it would still advance to the semifinals, albeit in second place, IF China defeats Norway. Should Norway and China draw, a U.S. win over Nigeria would secure the group title and a second place for China. If the USA loses to Nigeria, and Norway defeats China, the USA could still advance depending on goal difference and goals scored.