United States vs. China
Series: U.S. leads, 11-5-5
When: 3:30 p.m. today
Site: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.
Expected attendance: Approx. 88,000
TV: WJLA-7, WMAR-2
Comparing the Teams
China's Gao Hong is considered the best in the world, but American Briana Scurry isn't far behind. Gao has experience, range and superb instincts, and she commonly makes acrobatic saves. Scurry isn't as spectacular as Gao but has made several excellent one-on-one saves this summer, including two consecutive stops against North Korea in the first round and three gems against Brazil in the semifinals. However, her positioning isn't always perfect and communication problems between her and the defenders plagued the team against Germany in the quarterfinals.
The United States starts a veteran group: Central defender Carla Overbeck and right back Joy Fawcett are both 31 and both playing in their third Women's World Cup. Left back Brandi Chastain, 30, is in her second Cup, while central defender Kate Sobrero, 22, is a newcomer. Despite the U.S. performance this summer, the defense has had problems, particularly in the Germany match. A lack of speed is countered by intelligent decision-making and poise. China also is strong in the back, anchored by central defenders Fan Yunjie and Wen Lirong. Outside backs Wang Liping and Bai Jie are capable of inflicting damage by going forward on the flanks. In the semifinals, Norway had difficulty finding space in China's defense and didn't threaten consistently until the game was out of reach.
The Americans boast a veteran lineup with Michelle Akers, Julie Foudy and Kristine Lilly each making her third Cup appearance. Akers's role has shifted from scorer and playmaker to defense-oriented, and she will be responsible for slowing China's swift attack through the middle of the field. Lilly needs to create opportunities on the left wing to take pressure off the forwards. Reserve Tisha Venturini could provide a second-half lift if U.S. team is struggling. China's spark is central midfielder Liu Ailing, who scored two marvelous goals against Norway in semifinals. Zhao Lihong plays on the left side and is capable of dominating the match. U.S. midfielders must control Chinese flank play.
The Americans start three, the Chinese two. Sun Wen, a crafty attacker with an eye for the net, is among the tournament's outstanding performers with seven goals and is complemented by another dangerous scorer, Jin Yan. Their experience and shooting range will pose problems for American defense. The U.S. trio is charged by Mia Hamm, women's soccer's all-time leading scorer. Her creativity and flair on the left sets up numerous opportunities for speedy right wing Tiffeny Milbrett, who played well against Germany in the quarterfinals. The central forward is tall and strong Cindy Parlow, who is most effective on set plays and in other head-ball situations. If Coach Tony DiCicco wants more finesse, he'll insert scoring threat Shannon MacMillan.
Notable Previous Meetings
1996 Olympic Gold Medal Game
United States 2, China 1
At Sanford Stadium, Athens, Ga.
Women's soccer made its Olympic debut in 1996, and the public responded with large turnouts for elimination-round matches. In the final Aug. 1, forward Tiffeny Milbrett scored the go-ahead goal with about 22 minutes remaining to lift the Americans to the gold medal.
Forward Mia Hamm started the winning sequence by passing down the right flank to defender Joy Fawcett, who slipped a centering pass to Milbrett for a solid shot past veteran goalkeeper Gao Hong. The Chinese coaching staff complained that the play was offside.
Forward Shannon MacMillan, who scored the winning goal against Norway in the semifinals, scored the first U.S. goal after Hamm's shot hit the right post. Forward Sun Wen later tied the game by lifting a shot over goalkeeper Briana Scurry.
"This game could have gone either way," U.S. Coach Tony DiCicco said. "I'm so proud of the way our players kept fighting and finding a way to win. We knew this was going to be a supreme test. It was."
Said China Coach Ma Yuanan: "The United States has a stronger, faster team that gets more chances to shoot. The 2-1 score is a reasonable reflection of the game."
China 2, United States 1
March 20 in Loule, Portugal
The U.S. women failed for the fifth consecutive time to win the prestigious eight-team Algarve Cup tournament despite outplaying China in the final. Pu Wei headed the Chinese into the lead in the 16th minute, but the U.S. dominated play afterward, outshooting China 16-7 for the match and creating numerous scoring opportunities. Tiffeny Milbrett tied the game with her volley in the final minute of the first half, but Brandi Chastain missed a penalty kick early in the second. Jin Yan snatched the winner for China on a counterattack with 25 minutes remaining.
United States 2, China 1
April 22 in Hershey, Pa.
Midfielder Tisha Venturini entered the friendly match in the 90th minute and scored on her first touch of the game two minutes into injury time to give the U.S. the victory. Mia Hamm's cross from the right side of the penalty area was deflected by Chinese goalkeeper Han Wenxia to Venturini, who slid and found the net from seven yards away. The U.S. dominated the first half and led 1-0 at the break through Michelle Akers's 10th-minute penalty kick. China found its form in the second half and tied the game on Sun Wen's 30-yard free kick in the 59th minute.
China 2, United States 1
April 25 in East Rutherford, N.J.
China produced its own injury-time heroics when Zhang Ouying outran U.S. defenders Christie Pearce and Carla Overbeck to beat Briana Scurry to the left corner just seconds before the final whistle in the friendly match. The goal snapped the U.S.'s 50-game home unbeaten streak. The game was fast and physical (27 fouls, four yellow cards) and featured dangerous chances for both teams. Sun Wen opened the scoring in the 14th minute and Julie Foudy tied it for the U.S. in the 58th after collecting a pass from Cindy Parlow and sending a deflected shot over Chinese goalkeeper Gao Hong.
CAPTION: Michelle Akers is playing in her third World Cup for the United States, and was the leading goal scorer during the 1991 World Cup in China with 10. The veteran midfielder scored a goal in the team's 2-1 victory over China on April 22 in Hershey, Pa.
CAPTION: Tiffeny Milbrett of the United States (16) heads upfield after scoring the controversial go-ahead goal against China in the gold medal game at the 1996 Summer Olympics. China contends Milbrett was offside on the play.