Two countries with virtually nothing in common but soccer produced another classic in what is developing into a Women's World Cup rivalry.
China and Sweden, separated by vast gulfs in culture yet closely linked in the women's game, opened their quests for the 1999 Women's World Cup with a spirited Group D battle, won by China, 2-1, on goals by Jin Yan and Liu Ailing.
Sweden succumbed despite taking an early lead on a goal by Kristin Bengtsson, yet performed strongly enough against one of the tournament favorites to offer hope of advancing from a group that also includes Australia and Ghana.
The top two teams from each of the four groups qualify for the quarterfinals. And it is at the quarterfinal stage where these teams have met before. Sweden spoiled China's hosting of the inaugural tournament in 1991 by knocking it out, 1-0, in a quarterfinal match. That defeat proved so devastating that the Chinese took several years to revamp their program.
China paid the host Swedes back in 1995, eliminating them in the quarters on penalty kicks.
A subsequent meeting in the first round of the 1996 Olympics yielded a 2-0 China victory that triggered the retirement of several Swedish players. One of them was all-time leading scorer Pia Sundhage, who scored the goal that eliminated China in 1991.
"In 1991, it was the first time we were in the championship, and we were too nervous, too excited," Liu said. "It was a great disappointment. This time, we felt very different. This time, we have some championship experience, and we were very confident. This time, I was sure we would win.
"I surprised myself. I didn't expect to score the goal. Everything was just messing around and the ball was right next to me so I just kicked it."
Just as it did in that 1991 quarterfinal, Sweden struck early today, briefly deflating sections of Chinese fans -- including a student group from nearby San Jose State University. An error by a veteran of that '91 game gave Sweden its chance in the second minute. Defender Wen Lirong passed the ball straight to Swedish midfielder Bengtsson, and she fired a right-footed shot from 25 yards that nestled in the top corner.
Early World Cup goals are a Swedish speciality. Lena Videkull scored against Japan in the first minute in 1991. Bengtsson's strike today was the second-fastest in tournament history.
But unlike the '91 match, in which the Chinese fell behind 1-0 in the third minute and never caught up, they quickly came back today. Liu Ying took a corner kick in the 17th minute that Jin Yan headed past Swedish goalkeeper Ulrika Karlsson.
Encouraged by their success in the air, the Chinese bombarded the Swedish goal for the rest of the half, forcing several spectacular saves from Karlsson. At the other end, Chinese goalie Gao Hong displayed her eccentric athleticism by coming out of her penalty area to punch a high ball, conceding a free kick for a hand ball. Captain Malin Andersson, one of three Swedish veterans from the 1995 meeting, drove a low shot a foot wide of the goal post.
Sweden had no way to stop Zhao Lihong on her runs up the left flank, and her dribble forced a mix up near the edge of the Swedish penalty area in the 69th minute.
The ball caromed off Ying and a defender to Ailing, and she instinctively lofted a shot that cleared Karlsson and dropped into the net.
Like Wen, and Chinese captain Sun Wen -- who had to be replaced in the 75th minute because of a slight injury -- Liu was on the field when her team lost in 1991.
JAPAN 1, CANADA 1: Canada's strength and power against Japan's guile and quickness delighted a crowd of 23,289 in a flowing game full of scoring chances. Silvana Burtini gave Canada a 1-0 lead in the 32nd minute, and Japan's Nami Otake answered with a goal in the 64th minute.