Perhaps the most frightening aspect of China's 5-0 rout of defending champion Norway tonight in the semifinals of the Women's World Cup was not its inventive passing, determined attack or breathtaking goals.
It was what Coach Ma Yuanan said when asked if his team was capable of anything better when it faces the United States in the title match Saturday at the Rose Bowl.
Throughout the tournament, China had been hinting at a performance like this, but had been unable to put it all together into one devastating package. It happened tonight before 28,896 at steamy Foxboro Stadium as China ran circles around the baffled Norwegians, who had won 10 consecutive World Cup games since 1995.
Midfielder Liu Ailing scored on two spectacular volleys, forward Sun Wen added two goals and defender Fan Yunjie added one as China advanced to the championship game for the first time after a quarterfinal loss in 1991 and a semifinal defeat four years ago.
The margin tied the worst loss in Norway's ceremonious history, equaling a 5-0 defeat to Sweden in 1985 and a 6-1 fall to Denmark in 1994. Norway will play Brazil in the third-place game Saturday prior to the final.
"That's the best China team I have ever played against," said midfielder Hege Riise, a member of Norway's national team for eight years. "They're so comfortable with the ball. Nothing can stop them."
Showing no effects of their arduous travel itinerary that will include a fourth cross-country trip Monday, China dominated from the start and could have struck double figures if it weren't for some excellent saves by goalkeeper Bente Nordby and an occasional wayward shot.
It was clear early that Norway -- which had allowed three goals in its first four games -- would not be able to keep up with the swift Chinese. The Norwegians did all they could -- bumping, grabbing jerseys, double-teaming -- but nothing worked.
"We talked before the match that we had a chance to beat them," Norway Coach Per-Mathias Hogmo said. "But I also said it was most important that we move our feet fast enough. We didn't do that. We looked tired from the beginning."
China's probing passes found ample space in Norway's defensive end. It then was a matter of the Chinese speedsters chasing down the ball and taking aim at Nordby. Norway's Linda Medalen, who had made a graceful transition from forward to defense in this late stage of her international career, couldn't hinder the constant attack. In addition, midfielder Zhao Lihong made several excellent dashes along the left flank, and Liu Ailing and Liu Ying dominated the middle of the field.
"There's definitely a certain amount of surprise that we can score so many goals in this win," Liu Ailing said. "But on the other hand, we performed very well today."
In the third minute, Liu Ailing delivered a perfect pass to forward Jin Yan, who pulled away from a defender and had her shot blocked by Nordby. Sun gained possession, fended off another defender and struck with a low 12-yard shot for a quick lead.
After a diving save by Nordby, Liu Ying's corner kick was headed to the top of the box by Norway's Monica Knudsen. With a rapid rush, Liu Ailing met the ball with a blistering right-footed volley that flashed into the right side of the net for a 2-0 lead in the 14th minute.
The Chinese narrowly missed the mark two more times, and Nordby kept it close with two excellent saves as the half concluded with China's 11-0 advantage in shots.
Norway made two substitutions at intermission, including removal of tall striker Ann Kristin Aarones, who rarely touched the ball. But China's pressure didn't relent, and Liu Ailing increased the lead to 3-0 in the 51st minute with a left-footed volley from 15 yards that streaked past the flying Nordby.
Jin hit the underside of the crossbar in the 59th minute, but Fan was on target in the 65th with a short, leaping volley near the right post on Sun's expert free kick. Sun's penalty kick in the 72nd minute was her second goal of the game and seventh of the tournament, tying her with Brazil's Sissi for the lead.
Norway applied more pressure in the second half, but star goalkeeper Gao Hong made seven saves -- including three gems -- to register her third shutout.
"If China plays the way it did today, with all their speed and with the way they attack," Riise said, "they will beat the U.S. team. . . . The Americans are good, but it's hard to imagine anyone stopping them. I was very impressed."
CAPTION: Hege Riise tries an indirect kick but Norway was outshot 11-0 in the first half and never solved the Chinese defense.