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GROUP D at Home Depot Center, Carson

September 25, 2003|Lisa Dillman; Paul Gutierrez

Russia vs. Ghana, 4:15 p.m.

Players to watch: She may not have figured in the scoring, but lone striker Natalia Barbachina of Russia was the player of the game in an opening 2-1 victory over Australia, a fact leaving her practically speechless afterward, even in Russian. "I don't know what to say because I'm too excited about it," she said. She was pulled down in the box for a missed penalty shot in the second half and almost scored in the 89th minute, creating nightmares for the Australian defense. Although she wasn't player of the game for Ghana -- that honor went to defender Elizabeth Baidu -- goalkeeper Memunatu Sulemana was under siege throughout and kept the opener respectable, as China had 15 shots, five of them on goal.

Quick look: Both teams go into this pivotal game for second place in the group with momentum. If that sounds strange -- after all, Ghana did lose, 1-0, to China in its opener -- the losing players from the No. 53-ranked team looked almost joyful afterward, considering they were demolished by China, 7-0, four years ago. Coach Yuri Bystritsky of Russia, whose team reached the quarterfinals in 1999, was relieved his team found its game in the second half against Australia, saying the players considered the opener a game for second place in the group behind China. Bystritsky said it may not have featured "beautiful soccer," but a result is a result, in any language.

-- Lisa Dillman

China vs. Australia, 7 p.m.,

ESPN 2, Galavision

Players to watch: Australia forward Kelly Golebiowski gave the Matildas a 1-0 lead and much-needed momentum in the 38th minute against Russia, and defender Dianne Alagich gave it back one minute later with an own-goal. The Australia defense collapsed in the 89th minute, giving up the game-winner. China's world revolves around forward Sun Wen, whose 29th-minute header off a Bai Jie cross was all the Steel Roses needed against Ghana. Wen, 30, needs two goals to pass American Michelle Akers' World Cup career record of 12.

Quick look: If you believe Australia was heartbroken after outplaying Russia but losing, imagine the Matildas' mood entering their game against a refocused China. A dour Australia Coach Adrian Santrac said too much emotion and a lack of "team discipline in retaining shape" doomed his squad in a match that was essentially for second place in the group and a quarterfinal berth. China Coach Ma Liangxiang said he was looking to a better outing from his squad after an opening victory over Ghana that was harder than expected. "The first game is the hardest for every team," Ma said. "I expect the team to be better psychologically prepared and with [the team] better psychologically prepared, we'll play better." Sounds like it could be a long night for the Matildas.

-- Paul Gutierrez

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