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United States Hamm-ers China 4-1. Hamm highlights 26th birthday with three goals in Algarve Cup.

LOULÉ, Portugal (Tuesday, March 17, 1998) -- United States striker Mia Hamm celebrated her 26th birthday by scoring three goals to lift the U.S. to a 4-1 victory over China in the Fifth Algarve Cup today at Municipal Stadium.

The U.S. (2-0) needs a tie or a victory from Thursday’s Group A meeting with Norway (2-0) in Lagos to advance to Saturday’s final against the Group B winner. Norway was a 1-0 winner over Finland in the other Group A match today. The Americans, in their fourth visit, have never won the Algarve Cup.

The four goals were the most ever scored by the USA, which is 9-3-5 with China dating back to 1986. The two teams tied 0-0 in their last meeting in Guangzhou, China, on January 21 in a tournament won by the Americans at the site of their 1991 world championship.

"It was a game with two faces," added DiCicco. "At times, we played brilliant soccer and at times China had us under pressure, but we kept our poise and finished our chances well."

In the 15th minute, Michelle Akers, the alltime leading U.S. scorer with 94 goals, drilled a left-footed 30-yarder to the top right corner that handcuffed Chinese goalkeeper Goa Hong. Hamm jumped on the loose ball and blasted it into the roof of the net from two yards for a 1-0 lead.

Hamm added her second goal moments before intermission. Defender Brandi Chastain's long throw-in from the left sideline was headed forward by Kristine Lilly. Hamm won the ball in the air, brought it down as she cut inside past one defender, beat another defender into the middle, and then running to her right, slipped the ball back into the left corner with the outside of her left foot from 10 yards out.

"Mia Hamm was the show today," said U.S. coach Tony DiCicco. "China had no answer for her. She played great defense, held the ball well in the attack and took on defenders all game."

As in the U.S.’s 2-0 victory over Finland in the opening game of the Algarve Cup on Sunday, the Americans had a large edge in possession. Resultantly, China committed 19 fouls to three for the U.S. Still, the Chinese narrowed their deficit to 2-1 in the 72d minute when Qiu Haiyan scored from 19 yards off an assist by Zhang Ouying, beating keeper Briana Scurry and ending a streak of 501 minutes in which the U.S. had not conceded a goal.

China continued to attack furiously, but in the 87th minute, substitute Sara Whalen got free on the right wing sent a low, hard cross to Tiffeny Milbrett at the near post. Milbrett's point blank shot was deflected just wide of the goal by a Chinese defender, but on the ensuing corner kick, the ball floated over the defense to Julie Foudy, who touched the ball to the top of the penalty area to midfielder Kristine Lilly, who struck her shot into the right corner for a 3-1 advantage.

Hamm completed her hat trick in the final minute when Lilly's long pass skipped off the head of the Chinese defender. She swooped in to collect and beat Gao one-on-one into the right corner from 16 yards out.

"Anytime you beat a team of as talented as China by that score, it definitely gives you confidence," said Hamm, who now has 85 in 141 games. "Our midfield and defenders did a great job dealing with the tough conditions, the wind and the bumpy field, while still maintaining our composure. I'm happy with the goals because I think I only got three good opportunities, but the entire team improved from the last game in terms of their commitment to go forward and attack, which ultimately led to all four goals."

With her tally, Lilly, who also picked up two assists, moved into third place on the USA's all-time scoring list with 54 goals, passing Carin Gabarra. The match was Lilly's 144th international appearance, putting her seven games short of the all-time world record of 151, held by the now-retired Heidi Stoere of Norway.

In Group B, Denmark (1-0-1) thrashed the Netherlands (1-1) 6-0 and Sweden (1-0-1) beat Portugal (0-2) 2-0.

United States 4, China 1

Lineups: United States - Briana Scurry, Carla Overbeck, Brandi Chastain, Joy Fawcett (Christie Pearce 73), Shannon MacMillan (Sara Whalen 63), Julie Foudy, Tisha Venturini (Lorrie Fair 63), Kristine Lilly, Michelle Akers, Tiffeny Milbrett, Mia Hamm. China - Goa Hong, Fan Yunjie, Li Jie, Xie Huilin, Wang Jingxia, Qiu Haiyan, Liu Ailing (Zhu Jing 90), Liu Ying, Zhoa Lihong, Zhang Ouying, Jin Yan (Bai Jie 52).

Scoring: United States - Hamm (Akers) 15th minute; United States - Hamm (Lilly) 45; China - Qiu (Zhang) 72; United States - Lilly (Foudy) 87; United States - Hamm (Lilly) 90. Shots: United States 13, China 9. Saves: United States 3, China 6. Corner kicks: United States 6, China 4. Fouls: United States 3, China 19. Offsides: United States 8, China 3. Yellow card cautions: China - Fan 17, Zhang 60.

Referee: Ingrid Jonsson (Denmark). Assistant referees: Ana Paz (Portugal), Natalio Silva (Portugal). Attendance (Municipal Stadium): 300 (weather: sunny, breezy, 81 degrees)