GUANGZHOU, China (Friday, January 26, 2006) -- The top two women's teams in the world met this afternoon, but the highly anticipated match-up produced a less-than-inspiring 0-0 draw on the first day of the Four Nations Tounament before 1,500 at the 80,000-seat Guangdong Olympic Stadium this afternoon.
China blanked England 2-0 in today's first match in this annual round-robin event. Zhang Ying struck from 20 yards in the fourth minute, while Han Duan headed home a corner kick in the 90th minute for the victor.
On Tuesday, the U.S. faces China, followed by England's match against Germany.
With the fifth Women's World Cup commencing September 10 in China, this year's matches take on added importance, so a meeting between Germany, No. 1 in world governing body FIFA's rankings and second-ranked U.S. would seem to carry great significance. However, the U.S. and Germany were each without five presumed starters, allowing young players on both sides to gain valuable experience, but not conducive in producing a high-quality game.
Each team managed but eight shots, only three apiece on frame.
The U.S. playing the first of 15 matches this year to prepare for the World Cup, was saved by goalkeeper Hope Solo, who robbed Germany of a goal in each half. American defender Catherine Whitehill, who made one sterling defensive play to prevent a late goal, thought she had found net herself, but a call by Chinese referee Deng Junxia denied her a decisive tally midway through the first half.
"It was a very difficult game for our young players to play, playing against Germany," U.S. coach Greg Ryan told Associated Press. "We defended very well, but we have to take care of the ball and be calm about keeping possession."
Ryan raised his record to 26-0-6 since taking over the American helm, his only "loss" coming in a penalty-kicks tiebreaker following a 0-0 draw with Germany in the last meeting between the nations in March in the Algarve Cup final
Four Americans were left home to rest -- strikers Kristine Lilly and Abby Wambach, midfielder Aly Wagner and defender Christie Rampone. Midfielder Shannon Boxx is still recovering from surgery to repair the right anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament she tore July 17 in a scrimmage.
Because of injury or academic requirements, Germany was without forward Birgit Prinz, a three-time FIFA "World Player of the Year," as well as midfielders Kerstin Garefrekes, Renate Lingor and Steffi Jones, and defender Sandra Minnert.
"Both of us have very young teams here and you have to take that into account," Germany coach Silvia Neid said. "We have to learn calm down."
Each team had one good chance to score in the first half. In the 19th minute, U.S. striker Heather O'Reilly shed a defender on the left wing and crossed to Lindsay Tarpley just inside the six-yard box. The forward hit a good volley, but German defender Ariane Hingst was able to deflect the ball away for a corner kick.
On the ensuing corner, U.S. defender Catherine Whitehill elevated high in the middle of the penalty area and drilled a header into the net, but the goal was disallowed when O'Reilly was called for a foul considered dubious by the American contingent.
Eleven minutes later, Germany striker Anja Mittag seemed to have the top left corner of the net targeted from the top right corner of the six-yard box, but Solo extended fully and tipped the ball away.
Solo also made a sensational play in the 69th minute, launching herself to punch away dangerous cross by Germany midfielder Petra Wimberksy. The rebound went into the middle where reserve forward Linda Bresonik powered a header just over the crossbar.
Whitehill made a game-saving play in the 81st minute when Wimbersky seemingly had a free volley at goal, but the U.S. captain managed to recover and knock the ball off the German's foot and over the end-line.
The U.S. had one last chance to win in the second minute of stoppage time when striker Natasha Kai, who entered after intermission, won a ball on the right flank and then beat a defender across the end-line. She tried to feed Tarpley, who was charging to the six-yard-line, but the pass was intercepted and cleared by a retreating German.
"We would play some good soccer and then the level would drop, and we'd revert to just kicking balls instead of really just being composed, possessing, supporting each other and communicating," Ryan said. "I'd say the main thing is putting together a more consistent performance over 90 minutes. That's just part of being young. It's the part you have to go through and we are happy to be in that process with them."
Notes: Whitehill was designated captain for her 100th international appearance. Attacking midfielder Lori Chalupny, a University of North Carolina teammate of Whitehill and Tarpley, made her first start in her 29th cap.
Stephanie Lopez turned in a strong performance at left back in her second career start. Forward Lauren Cheney made her first appearance for the U.S. before giving way to Kai.
The Americans were two players short for several minutes at the beginning of the second half after central defenders Kate Markgraf and Whitehill cracked heads while attempting to head a bouncing ball back to Solo.
Both players were treated on the sideline. Whitehill was able to return with a her nose and lip swollen, but Markgraf was not able to continue, eventually requiring four stitches for a cut above her right eye.