Six may be a lucky number for the Chinese, but it was the visiting USA that claimed their sixth Four-Nation Women's Championship title following a 1-0 win over their hosts in Guangzhou on Sunday.
It was the third time in a row that USA and China PR met in the annual event's concluding game. Following a 4-1 defeat of Finland and a 4-0 win over Canada, the Americans - under the guidance of the newly appointed Swede Pia Sundhage - needed just a point to secure the trophy, while their Asian opponents required victory after a 2-0 reverse of Finland preceded a goalless draw with Canada.
USA went out attacking first but it was China that should have broken the deadlock on 12 minutes when lone striker Han Duan's effort was tipped just over by goalkeeper Hope Solo. The US's first real chance came 20 minutes later, when Heather O'Reilly's cross from the left fell at the feet of an off-balance Shannon Boxx, who shot wide.
Sundhage's charges upped the tempo upon the restart, pinning their rivals into their own half for the majority of the half, and their efforts paid off when Boxx scored a looping header in the 76ht minute.
Winning her first tournament gold since replacing Greg Ryan in November left Sundhage excited. "I am very happy we won the championship in such a high-level competition," said the former Sweden star. "The Chinese were very well organised in defense but we changed our tactics quickly and we succeeded."
Honours for Tarpley, O'Reilly
The success came as a timely boost for the two-time world champions after their disappointing campaign at the FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007. It also marked a good starting point for the team, who will go in search of a series of honours this year, namely the Algarve Cup crown in March, the CONCACAF qualifying competition for the Women's Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008 in April and, if they qualify, the Olympic gold itself.
Despite playing without the talismanic Kristine Lilly, who will not play in 2008 as she is expecting her first child, Sundhage's new-look team proved they were by no means short of firepower. They scored nine times in three matches, with four-goal Lindsay Tarpley topping the scoring charts and Heather O'Reilly picking up the tournament's best player award.
"It was fantastic that we scored eight goals in the opening two matches," Sundhage said. "We have started to change the attacking style and I am happy with the way they responded to the new playing style."
The runners-up finish was not what China coach Elisabeth Loisel wanted, but she knows that her side need to improve to compete with the world's elite. "Our rivals are not only physically stronger than us but also faster, which made their attacking more dangerous. In the next camp we are going to focus more on fitness training," vowed the Frenchwoman.
With only seven months left before Beijing 2008 gets underway, Loisel must swiftly find an answer to her side's scoring problems if they are to realise their Olympic goals. "We have made good progress in defense after five friendly matches, but pace and possession are the two areas we need desperately to improve in the near future," she concluded.