Originally created 07/06/99

China may improve against U.S.



FOXBORO, Mass. -- China had just won 5-0, matching the biggest margin of defeat ever for the Norwegian women's soccer team.

Could the Chinese possibly play better than they did in Sunday's World Cup semifinal?

"Very possible," China coach Ma Yuanen said.

The Chinese -- and the Americans -- will find out Saturday when they meet for the World Cup title at the Rose Bowl.

Two goals in the first 14 minutes Sunday gave China control. And Norway didn't manage a shot for the entire first half. Then the Chinese put three shots in the first 27 minutes of the second half past goalkeeper Bente Nordby, who had allowed just three goals in Norway's previous four games.

The Chinese coach, though, wasn't satisfied.

"After we led 2-0, some of the team members were making constant errors," Ma said. "In the first half, there were two opportunities which the players didn't maximize. If we did, the game would have been easier."

China, though, was still impressive enough to earn the nod from Norwegian coach Per-Mathias Hogmo.

"There's no doubt that China beat the USA already twice, so I think they will be a favorite in the final," Hogmo said, "but they will meet a very enthusiastic American team so I think it will be an interesting fight."

The United States must find a way to stop Sun Wen, whose two goals Sunday tied her for the tournament lead with Sissi of Brazil with seven.

It also will have to cope with China's team speed. In the first half, Zhao Lihong repeatedly sped up the left side past her defender and made crossing passes.

The Chinese "are very good on free kicks and corner kicks and the U.S. should watch out for that," Norway's Linda Medalen said.

Liu Ailing's two goals that made the score 2-0 and 4-0 both came off corner kicks.

The Americans also must beat goalkeeper Gao Hong. She had an easy first half Sunday, but was sharp several times in the second half when Norway had offensive opportunities.

"Norway was the best team we played in the tournament, but we play with a sense of spiritual unity," said Gao, who has three shutouts as China has outscored opponents 19-2 in going 5-0. She has not faced a tough test since a 2-1 win over Sweden in her World Cup opener.

The Americans also must be careful from the start. They fell behind 1-0 to Nigeria in the first round and 2-1 at halftime to Germany in the quarterfinals. An early deficit may not be so easy to overcome in the final.

China has a 2-1 record against the United States this year. They last met April 25 at East Rutherford, N.J., where China won 2-1. Ma hopes his team can play next Saturday the way it did then.

"The Chinese team has the confidence to play a very good game," he said.

"I didn't think they'd be so strong," Hogmo said. "They impressed me a lot."