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Lilly's two goals defeat China 2-0 and win Four Nations crown.
GUANGZHOU, China (January 22, 2006) -- Striker Kristine Lilly, who reached a milestone Wednesday with her world-record 300th international appearance, finished her week in style, scoring a pair of goals to lift the United States to a 2-0 decision over China for the Four Nations Tournament title before 15,000 at Guangdong Olympic Stadium this afternoon.
In her 302nd cap, Lilly put away a pair of tallies in the first half to push her total to 107, tied for second in the world, trailing retired teammate Mia Hamm's 158. Italian legend Elisabetta Vignotto also has 107.
"I think this group was just a bit frustrated coming off the France game (Friday's 0-0 draw) because we thought we could have finished that one off," Lilly said "That gave us momentum coming into this game against China. Our goal is always to win, not only to this tournament, but every game, and the team stepped up."
The U.S. finished first at 2-0-1. China (1-1-1) would have won the championship with a victory or draw. France (0-0-3) placed third after opening the afternoon with a 1-1 draw with Norway (0-2-1).
This was the fourth time in five trips to the Four Nations Tournament that the U.S. captured first place, also winning in 1998, 2003 and 2004. The Americans raised their record against China on its home soil to 3-3-5.
The match was played in chilly 52-degree conditions with the flag-waving, drum-beating fans vocal in support of the home team.
"We loved that the crowd was against us," Lilly said. "It motivated us."
The U.S. went ahead with a penalty kick in the 24th minute following Lilly's right-side corner kick. American striker Abby Wambach was roughed up in the box, as she had been in the early going, and Norwegian referee Ann Helene Ostervold ruled Wambach had been held.
The Chinese players protested vehemently, but Lilly drove the PK into the lower right corner of the net as goalkeeper Han Wen Xia leaned the wrong way, putting the U.S. up 1-0.
"The mentality of this team is to look at any situation like this and just step out with a determination to win the day, and that's what they did," U.S. coach Greg Ryan said. "I don't think the crowd affected them, I don't think the cold affected them. I could see it in their faces and eyes before the game started, there was that additional focus and determination to win this game today. You don't always get the breaks, but I knew they would do everything they needed to do to win it."
The U.S. midfield of Shannon Boxx, Lindsay Tarpley and Aly Wagner enjoyed a bit more space and time than it did against France in a 0-0 draw Friday and the Americans full advantage to create several dangerous chances for the front line of Lilly, Wambach and Christie Welsh.
In the 41st minute, Welsh sent a short chip over the Chinese back line from 25 yards out. Lilly ran onto the service in the box, held off a defender and lifted the bouncing ball over an advancing Han to make it 2-0.
The goal silenced the large crowd for several minutes.
"From this match, we can see there are some differences between the Chinese and American teams, such as experience, tactics and even physical, but I am very satisfied with my team," China coach Ma Liangxing said. "Every player did their best and this tournament will be very helpful to the young players. We will benefit a lot from these games, especially for the young players, as they have a chance to gain experience. We have a lot time to go for our improvement."
U.S. keeper Hope Solo turned in a strong effort, making five saves and coming off her line to strongly secure or punch clear at least a half-dozen Chinese services. In the 29th minute, she denied the Steel Roses' first dangerous chance of the game by diving to her right to knock down a troublesome header from midfielder Han Duan. Solo then pounced on the loose ball before an opponent could get to it.
In the 81st minute, Solo stretched out to deny a long, blistering Chinese drive.
"I think, probably more so at this tournament than in the future, we had to think the game through with the young players we had out there," Solo said. "It was about making an effort to work hard and put ourselves in the right positions defensively. The more we play, the more naturally it will come, but the focus and determination we showed in this tournament was just outstanding considering the amount of time we've played together."
China played a 4-4-2 formation with the crafty Han Duan playing high, but she had difficulty finding gaps in the U.S. defense.
The U.S. came close to adding to its lead on several occasions in the second half. In the 59th minute, defender Amy LePeilbet drew a roar from the crowd when she ran under a falling Chinese clearance and blasted a full volley from outside the box. Her shot toward the left side of the net was blocked and momentarily cleared by a defender. In the ensuing scramble, the ball was played back into the box where Tarpley got a foot to it, spinning it off the left post from 10 yards out.
In the 62nd minute, Wambach got behind the Chinese defense on a counterattack, but was run down before she could shoot. Seven minutes later, Wagner had a chance on a point-blank header, but hit it straight into the hands of Han Wen Xia from the top of the six-yard box.
China pushed hard for a goal in the last 15 minutes, inspired by chants of "Fight On! Fight On!" but the U.S. defense, led by center backs LePeilbet and Tina Frimpong, did not break.
The Americans were without veteran center backs Cat Reddick and Kate Markgraf for this tournament, so Frimpong, a converted forward, was starting just her third game in central defense, all three in this event. She combined with LePeilbet to win nearly every 50-50 ball that came up the middle.
"The girls around me just helped me out a ton, allowing me to learn and to play the way I did," Frimpong said. "In today's game, even though we were up 2-0, the speed of the game was amazing and every time China got the ball they rushed at us so fast. I learned what it felt like to play in such a big game and I had never felt that before. With Hope behind me, Amy next to me, and Heather (Mitts) on one side of me, I just felt like we played so well together. It was such a rush and a great experience."
Mitts had another strong game at right back, while veteran Christie Rampone, playing somewhat also stood out on the left side of defense.
"Overall, we played very good team defense, which made it easier for us to attack," Lilly said. "Really, the big thing was finishing some chances, but we had more numbers in the box, which gave us more variety and more chances to score and that made it difficult for China to stay with us."
The young defense allowed only one goal in this tournament, a penalty kick in the opening 3-1 triumph over Norway, in a competition in which the U.S., ranked second in the world, faced the No. 3 Norwegians, fifth-ranked France and No. 9 China. The Americans allowed only 18 shots, 10 on goal, in the three outings.
"We were unlucky to give up the one goal that we did," Ryan said, "Our priority early in the year is going to be our team defending and we are doing great already because we worked on it last year, so everybody understands their roles. We think we can be the best defensive team in the world, but our defending leads to our attacking. We're pushing people high up the field to defend so we can immediately attack in their half. That part has been fantastic."
In the first match of the day, Norway tied France 1-1 got a late equalizer from Maritha Kaufmann.
Notes: Lilly, the leading scorer in the tournament with three goals, was named "Best Player." Solo was picked as "Best Goalkeeper." Ryan was selected "Best Coach."
The U.S. women are next in action at the Algarve Cup March 9-15 in Portugal.
United States 2, China 0
Lineups: China - Han Wen Xia, Wang Kun (Liu Ya Li 46), Li Jie (captain), Bi Yan, Zhang Ying (Qu Fei Fei 46), Han Duan, Bai Li Li, Pan Li Na, Ma Xioa Xu (Guo Yue 73), Liu Hua Na, Yuan Fan (Sun Yong Xia 84). United States - Hope Solo, Heather Mitts, Tina Frimpong, Amy LePeilbet, Christie Rampone, Shannon Boxx, Lindsay Tarpley (Leslie Osborne 84), Aly Wagner, Abby Wambach, Christie Welsh (Heather O'Reilly 75), Kristine Lilly (captain).
Shots: China 9, United States 14. Shots on goal: China 5, United States 6. Saves:China 3, United States 5. Corner kicks: China 5, United States 4. Fouls: China 3, United States 8. Offside: China 0, United States 3.
Referee: : Ann Helene Ostervold (Norway). Assistant referees: Li Hong Juan (China), Deng Jun Xia (China). Attendance: 15,000 at Guangdong Olympic Stadium in Guangzhou, China. Weather: Cold, hazy, 52 degrees.
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