LOULÉ, Portugal (Thursday, March 20, 2003) - Two goals in a four-minute span of the second half by Mia Hamm and Shannon MacMillan, each assisted by the other, gave the U.S. Women's National Team a 2-0 victory over China in the championship of the 2003 Algarve Cup.
The win marked the second time the USA has won this prestigious tournament, considered the world's most competitive women's international event outside of the Women's World Cup, the Olympics and the European Championships. The USA also won in 2000, giving U.S. head coach April Heinrichs two Algarve Cup titles.
The U.S. put together an outstanding performance in the 30th meeting between the countries, dealing with a bumpy field and the quick and skillful Chinese, to control the match. The U.S. defense was once again stellar, holding China to only a few dangerous chances while avenging a 2-0 loss in the Four Nations Tournament last January.
Both teams played 4-5-1 formations, a lineup unique for the USA, but with Hamm as the lone striker and Kristine Lilly and MacMillan attacking down the flanks, the USA was more effective on both sides of the ball.
"Tonight's performance from start to finish was phenomenal," said Heinrichs. "Every player was tied into our tactical scheme and was committed to playing the way the coaching staff asked them to play. Every player was allowed to be a personality within our system and they absolutely stepped up. We played a different system, and we wanted to sit back in a low-pressure style and explode out of that."
China played uncharacteristically direct, sending numerous long balls sailing into the U.S. defensive third, but center backs Brandi Chastain and Joy Fawcett were world class, winning everything in the air while running down anything that got over their heads. Outside backs Cat Reddick and Kate Sobrero also played excellent matches, digging balls out of the corners and winning numerous headers in the back. Sobrero even came close to scoring her first goal for the national team, banging a cross off the left post after an aggressive run down the flank in the second half.
"Obviously people want to pay attention to our attacking personalities, but I'll tell you what, Brandi Chastain and Joy Fawcett were two of our most valuable players for the second tournament in a row," said Heinrichs, referring to the Four Nations and the Algarve Cup. "Joy's consistency and mentality is the best of all the players on our team."
After a first half in which the USA took five shots, and China had just one, the Americans blew the game open just minutes into the second half, and Hamm was at the heart of both goals. Center midfielder Aly Wagner was having trouble finding space to spray passes in the first half, but found more room in the second, and it paid off in the 53rd minute when she sprang Hamm behind the Chinese defense. Hamm headed the bouncing ball down to herself then accelerated into the penalty area for a one-on-one with Chinese goalkeeper Zhao Yan. The world's all-time leading scorer tried to bend the ball around Zhao, but she got a piece of it. Not enough as it turned out, as the ball spun behind the Chinese 'keeper and toward the goal. MacMillan was following the play and thundered into the goalmouth to slam the ball home from just one yard out, tumbling into the net in a cloud of dirt. It was her 54th international goal.
The U.S. scored its second just three minutes later as MacMillan returned the favor, slipping a great pass to the cutting Hamm in the right side of the penalty area. Hamm shot from 16 yards across the goalkeeper to the far post, and Zhao got a piece of this one too, but couldn't keep it out of the net as it bounced, hit the left post and caromed in.
"We were able to get that goal early in the half and then the second one right after, and it took some of the spirit out of China, but we never expected China to give up and they didn't," said Hamm, who scored her 138th career goal.
The bumpy field made holding the ball difficult for both teams, but the U.S. had much better possession in the second half. While China took seven of their eight shots after the break, most did not trouble U.S. goalkeeper Briana Scurry, who made three saves on the evening in picking up her 60th career shutout. Scurry was excellent coming out of her goal to gobble up long balls and twice in the first half left her penalty box to safely clear balls away with her feet.
"We are very happy with the win," said Hamm. "To play four games in seven days, and to end with the second half that we did, especially against a Chinese team that is extremely talented, was great for us. But I have to hand it to our defense. They played great the entire tournament and today was no different. They just played phenomenally and that allowed us in midfield and up top to take a few more chances."
The U.S. took 10 total shots, but put a high percentage on goal, scoring twice and forcing Zhao into four saves. MacMillan got Zhao scrambling twice in the first half, the first coming in the 21st minute, when a well struck free kick from 35 yards pulled a diving save out of Chinese 'keeper. In the 36th minute, MacMillan spun around a defender at the top of the penalty area to fire a dipping shot, but Zhao dug it out of the dirt in front of the goal with a diving save to her left.
The USA has a golden chance to add a third goal in the 77th minute as substitute Heather O'Reilly raced in on a breakaway, but Zhao did well to hold her ground and stuffed the 18-year-old's shot.
Most of China's danger in the second half came from corner kicks as they earned five of their six corners after the break, but the U.S. defense, and Scurry, cleared them all.
"I really thought either team could win it until it was 2-0, even though that is certainly not a safe lead against China," said Heinrichs. "But with the way we were playing, with the system we were playing and with the veteran leadership on the field, I felt secure with the 2-0 lead."
Captain Julie Foudy and Fawcett put on Herculean performances, playing all 90 minutes in all four matches over the seven days. All the U.S. players, except for North Carolina students Reddick and Lindsay Tarpley, and high school senior Heather O'Reilly, head back to the U.S. to re-join their WUSA clubs. The national team will return to action on April 26 vs. Nigeria at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., as preparations for the 2003 Women's World Cup continue.
All the teams from Group A won their placement matches, attesting to the toughness of that group. Norway defeated France, 1-0, for third place as Dagny Mellgren scored her third goal of the tournament. The French, who will compete in their first Women's World Cup in September, still notched an impressive fourth place finish in their first Algarve Cup. Sweden hammered Finland, 5-0, for fifth place, and the Fins managed a sixth place finish despite not scoring a goal in the tournament. Canada destroyed Greece, 7-1, for seventh place as Christine Sinclair scored three times. Denmark defeated Portugal, 1-0, for ninth place as the hosts suffered a heartbreaker, losing on an own goal. Wales scored a dramatic equalizer in stoppage time to tie Ireland, 2-2, in regulation, but then fell 4-2 in penalty kicks to finish last.
Sweden's Hanna Ljungberg was the tournament's Top Scorer with four goals. Norway's Astrid Johannssen was named Best Goalkeeper and China's Liu Ying was named Best Player. Sweden walked off with the Fair Play Award.
U.S. WOMEN'S NATIONAL TEAM GAME REPORT
Participants: United States Women's National Team vs. China
Competition: 2003 Algarve Cup Championship Game
Venue: Municipal Stadium (Loulè, Portugal)
Date: March 20, 2002 - Kickoff 6:00 p.m. Local (1:00 p.m. ET)
Weather: Chilly, light breeze - 58 degrees
Scoring Summary: 1st 2nd Final
USA 0 2 2
CHN 0 0 0
USA - Shannon MacMillan (Mia Hamm) 52.
USA - Mia Hamm (Shannon MacMillan) 56.
USA: 1-Briana Scurry; 4-Cat Reddick, 14-Joy Fawcett, 6-Brandi Chastain, 15-Kate Sobrero; 2-Lorrie Fair, 11-Julie Foudy - C, 13-Kristine Lilly (7-Heather O'Reilly, 73), 10-Aly Wagner (17-Angela Hucles, 66), 8-Shannon MacMillan (5-Tiffany Roberts, 76); 9-Mia Hamm.
Subs Not Used: 3-Christie Pearce, 12-Cindy Parlow, 16-Tiffeny Milbrett, 18-Siri Mullinix, 19-Danielle Slaton, 20-Lindsay Tarpley.
CHN: 18-Zhao Yan - C; 2-Sun Rui, 3-Li Jie, 12-Zhou Xiaoxia (19-Chen Jinyu, 66), 16-Liu Yali; 6-Zhao Lihong (23-Han Duan, 66), 7-Pu Wei, 15-Ren Liping (27-Zhang Ouying, 57), 20-Liu Ying; 10-Sun Wen (21-Teng Wei, 88), 9-Bai Jie.
Subs Not Used: 4-Goa Hongxia, 11-Xie Caixia, 13-Meng Jun, 14-Bi Yan, 22-Han Wenxia.
Statistical Summary: USA / CHN
Shots:10 / 8
Shots on Goal: 6 / 3
Saves: 3 / 4
Corner Kicks: 5/ 6
Fouls: 16 / 12
Offside: 4/ 1
Referee: Eva Odlund (Sweden)
Asst. Referee: Susanne Borg (Sweden)
Asst. Referee: Hege Steinlund (Norway)
4th Official: Antonia Kokotou (Greece)
CHN - Zhao Lihong (caution) 7th minute.
CHN - Zhou Xiaxia (caution) 21.
Thursday, March 20 -- Placement Games
Ireland 2, Wales 2 11th Place Match (Ireland wins 4-2 on penalty kicks)
Denmark 1, Portugal 0 9th Place Match
Canada 7, Greece 1 7th Place Match
Sweden 5, Finland 0 5th Place Match
Norway 1, France 0 3rd Place Match
USA vs. China Championship
Algarve Cup Final Standings
Algarve Cup Award Winners
Top Scorer: Hanna Ljungberg (Sweden)
Best Goalkeeper: Astrid Johannssen (Norway)
Best Player: Liu Ying (China)
Fair Play Award: Sweden