The 2007 Four Nations Women's Championship in Guangzhou reached a climax on Tuesday as an under-strength US side claimed the title for the fifth time following their 2-0 win over hosts China. Despite the defeat, the 'Steel Roses' finished runners-up ahead of the world's top-ranked team Germany and fellow FIFA Women's World Cup qualifiers England.
All four participants had a chance to win the title on the final day. China led the standings with four points; Germany and the USA were on two, while England had one. The two European sides saw their hopes of winning the tournament quashed after a goalless draw in the day's opening fixture, leaving the hosts only needing a draw to lift the trophy in front of a raucous home crowd.
However, having won the competition in 1998, 2003, 2004 and 2006, the US had the pedigree , and crucially the belief, going into the final game. They began confidently, launching wave after wave of attack and piling the pressure on China at every opportunity. The hosts appeared to be coping well with the Americans' offensive strategy, until Lori Chalupny hit a rising shot into the top right corner of the net in first-half stoppage time.
Buoyed by the goal, Greg Ryan's team started the second half brightly. Ten minutes after the restart, they doubled their advantage when Weng Xinzhi's clearance fell to the feet of Natasha Kai, who fired the ball home. China threw everything forward in the remaining minutes, but the US kept their cool to claim the title for the fourth time in five years.
"I was very happy with my team today," said coach Ryan , who, since taking the reins, has seen his team go 34 matches without a loss. "They played with tremendous energy and a desire to attack. In the first half, I thought we played very well. In the second half, I thought China played very well. When we weren't able to continue to pressure China, you could see they knew how to play and create chances and get good scoring opportunities behind our defense. I want to congratulate China on a very good performance."
Meanwhile, the second-place finish was not a total disappointment for China's interim coach Wang Haiming, deputizing for Ma Liangxing, who is suffering from heart problems. "For a team in a transitional period like us, it was good to finish runners-up. I have seen technical improvement in the team, which made us able to compete with three physically stronger sides. That was particularly pleasing to me."
Germany's decision to travel to China without Birgit Prinz and six other key players cost them dearly in front of goal, but they can take heart from the fact that they did not concede in any of their three matches. Sylvia Neid's team created plenty of opportunities, but were denied by some excellent goalkeeping, wasteful finishing - and bad luck.
"We said before this trip that the object wasn't to win but to see how our young players performed," said Neid. "Having said that, we created a lot of chances here but didn't score once."
Neid must have been bolstered by the performance of 22-year-old goalkeeper Stephanie Ullrich, who deputized for Silke Rottenberg after Germany's first-choice keeper was injured during a training session before the game against China. Ullrich kept two clean sheets against the hosts and England to cement her place for the FIFA Women's World Cup in seven and a half months time.
Just as they surprised the world by qualifying for September's showpiece event in China after being drawn in a tricky group with France and the Netherlands, so England raised a few eyebrows in Guangzhou during the Four Nations Tournament.
"We've really enjoyed the experience of playing against some of the top sides in the world this week," said Powell. "Although I'm not totally satisfied, psychologically the last two results have given everyone a big boost. This tournament has been a massive learning curve and we can only improve as a result of what we've learned.
"We want to be invited to many more of these tournaments as they are the perfect dress rehearsal for when the major championships come round and I think our players have really won over the local fans this week, something I hope will ensure we get plenty of support come World Cup time."