Despite the absence of Olympic gold medallists USA, the inclusion of Russia, Australia and world champions Germany will surely make the 2005 Four-nation Women's Tournament an event to remember. The competition, staged in Qianzhou in Southeast China, will run from 28 January to 1 February.
This year's installment (the fifth edition since the tournament's inception in 1998) is expected to be one of the best yet with FIFA Women's Player of the Year Birgit Prinz on display for all to see. Also two new coaches will be making their debut in Qianzhou: Australian boss Tom Sermmani and China caretaker boss Wang Haiming.
China's re-match with Germany will surely represent a fine climax to the competition. After the 8-0 upset in Athens last autumn, the meeting will present the partisan crowd with a mouthwatering, emotional moment.
*New-look nemeses meet again *Germany, who finished runners-up behind Norway at the 2002 Four-Nation Tournament, with Birgit Prinz named as the tournament's MVP, are no newcomers to the prestigious international event. In their second appearance, in 2003, they disappointed with only a third-place finish. Admittedly though, they were handicapped without their top striker Princess Prinz. But the reigning Women's World Cup champions are stepping back into limelight this time as undisputed favourites to take home the laurels.
For China's interim coach Wang Haiming, the Germany game will be his first tough test since taking over a month ago. With the 0-8 humiliation still fresh in the minds of most fans, the former under-19 Women's coach, whose Steel Rosebuds also lost to eventual champions Germany in the final of FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship in Bangkok last December, didn't appear too worried when he spoke to FIFA.com. "We don't expect too much against the Women's World Cup champions," he said. Instead, we will take this as a good opportunity to learn from them and make ourselves better."
Big Birgit Prinz, who scored four times in the 8-0 thrashing of China last autumn, does not exactly share Haiming's humility about China's ability. "I always believe China are one of the strongest teams in the world," She told local reporters on arrival in Quanzhou. "We scored eight goals in that match because our rivals didn't play their best for whatever reason. But they don't need to feel too humbled because they are a good team and can beat any team on their day."
Since the last Women's World Cup two years ago, both sides have undergone significant squad changes. Both have a number of young up-and coming players rising through the ranks. The match, in a sense, will be a clash between two new generations. "We will field a young team," veteran Prinz confirmed. "But this doesn't mean China will defeat us with ease. They are also a young team and may lack the necessary experience."
For Haiming's new team, with the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup in China and the 2008 Olympics in Beijing also on the horizon, development and cultivation of young talent is crucial. "I will observe the team and find the best young players from our three matches," Haiming revealed.
*Newcomers ready to shine *Debutants Australia and Russia are by no means looking merely to make up the numbers. Russia lost to the Steel Roses only 1-0 in a tight group match at USA 2003 and Australia beat the Chinese 2-0 in a friendly before reaching the quarterfinals in Athens.
"We are a new team, but a team based around veteran players," said Australia's new coach Tom Sermmani, who stepped in for Adrian Santrac after the Olympics last year. Australia's 31-year-old captain, Cheryl Salisbury, is hoping her team will gain a lot by rubbing elbows with distinguished teams like Germany and China. "We thank China for giving us the opportunity to play against such strong competition. No matter if we win or lose, the team will be better for having played."
*Fixtures: *Friday 28 January: Australia - Germany, China - Russia
Sunday 30 January: China - Australia, Germany - Russia
Tuesday 1 February: Russia - Australia, China - Germany