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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES

U.S. Ill From Sun Stroke

Soccer: Chinese captain's brilliant 67th-minute goal on free kick offsets Foudy's first-half header in 1-1 tie.

September 18, 2000|GRAHAME L. JONES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MELBOURNE, Australia — Siri Mullinix was crouched on the goal line, poised to make the save. She had calculated the angles and positioned herself well.

In front of her, the U.S. defense had set up a four-player wall, blocking a large portion of the net and thereby cutting down the odds of a goal being scored.

And then China's Sun Wen went to work.

The ball flew off her foot, soared over the wall and dipped wickedly toward its target, a point just inside the left post.

Mullinix threw herself sideways, her right arm outstretched. She got her fingertips to the ball, deflecting it upward. The ball struck the underside of the crossbar and bounced down, over the line and into the net.

As Andres Cantor would say--indeed, did say--"Goooooaaaal, China."

Just like that, with one bit of magic from 30 yards out, China's 27-year-old captain and inspiration undid an entire Sunday afternoon's work by the U.S. women's soccer team, scoring the goal that earned the 1996 silver medalist a 1-1 tie with the 1996 gold medalist.

To the 32,500 fans on hand at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, a large and vocal portion of them waving Chinese flags, it was a fitting reward for a team that had more than matched the Americans at both ends of the field.

"I'd pay for her to come to the United States and play in the WUSA," U.S. Coach April Heinrichs said of Sun and the Women's United Soccer Assn. professional league that begins play next spring.

"She's so well-rounded and composed. She's a great leader. She leads by example, first and foremost, and she leads for 90 minutes."

Sun's 67th-minute goal erased a 1-0 lead that her counterpart, U.S. co-captain Julie Foudy, had given the American team with a fine headed goal in the 38th minute.

"She had a decent amount of power on it and just perfect placement," Mullinix said of Sun's longe-range free kick, which came after Mia Hamm had fouled Liu Ailing.

"I had an idea it was going to my right and I was able to get there. I think it's the worst when you feel it hit your hand and you hear it hit the crossbar and you're hoping it's going over and you look down and it's dropping in your net.

"It was a great shot."

Heinrichs said she could not fault Mullinix for her effort.

"I was pleased that she got there and went after it," Heinrichs said. "I've seen Sun Wen do that same thing to every goalkeeper in the world and most of them are turning and watching, assuming it's going outside or over [the net]."

The U.S. might still have won the game had Kristine Lilly been able to beat Chinese goalkeeper Gao Hong on a penalty kick in the 74th minute after Swiss referee Nicole Petignat judged that defender Fan Yunjie had handled a cross by Tiffeny Milbrett from the left.

But Gao threw herself to her right to block Lilly's shot, then pounced on the rebound.

"It happens," Lilly said. "I hit it where I wanted to."

In the first half, Gao pulled off an equally fine save, leaping to tip a superb left-footed volley from the ever-dangerous Milbrett over the crossbar.

The U.S. goal came off the resultant play when Gao failed to reach Shannon MacMillan's well-struck corner kick and Foudy was on hand at the far post to head the ball into the open net.

The tie means that the U.S. has been unable to defeat China in each of the teams' last four meetings, including the 1999 World Cup final, which counts as a 0-0 tie even though the U.S. subsequently won the trophy on penalty kicks.

"We're a little bummed at the outcome," said Joy Fawcett, who once again turned in a flawless performance in the center of the U.S. defense. "We wanted to win that game."

It was Sun who prevented that with her tournament-high third goal of the Games, keeping her on course to add an Olympic scoring title to the World Cup scoring title she won last year along with her most-valuable-player award.

"That goal is why she is who she is," Hamm said.

The tie leaves both countries close to securing a place in the semifinals. The U.S. will advance if it defeats or ties Nigeria Wednesday or if China defeats Norway that same day.

"There's no chance this team thinks that a tie is going to be enough," Heinrichs said. "In our opinion, this is the quarterfinals of the Olympics, so we'll go after Nigeria with everything we have."

China will be doing the same against Norway, knowing that if it wins it will remain on course to play the U.S. again in the gold-medal game, just as it did in the 1996 Olympics and in the 1999 Women's World Cup.

That's important because, as Sun said before coming to Australia, the Chinese players have a score to settle with the U.S.

"We were really disappointed to lose the World Cup last year," she told Reuters in Beijing. "If we meet in the [Olympic] final, we will not let such an opportunity pass again."

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