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China Draws More Questions

September 26, 2003|Paul Gutierrez and Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writers

OK, so maybe China Coach Ma Liangxing wasn't just sandbagging when he downplayed the talent of his team earlier this week.

Maybe the Steel Roses aren't as good as their No. 4 world ranking.

In any case, China's 1-1 draw with offensively challenged Australia in a Group D round-robin match at the Home Depot Center in Carson on Thursday night raised more questions than answers.

Especially since China (1-0-1) and its two-goal total are flirting with not advancing to the quarterfinals.

"I've said before that this team is not as good as four years ago," Liangxing said through a translator of the 1999 runners-up. "But I still think they're the best in the world. Please do not doubt the abilities of the players because of the [result of the] game. This is soccer."

China dominated the match, holding a 61% to 39% ball possession advantage while outshooting Australia, 9-3.

But China, which formulated most of its attacks from its wings rather than from its strength in the middle, was able to get only two shots on goal.

The team's mood is "a little bit regret," said Li Jie, "because we had too many chances to score goals."

Said Australia Coach Adrian Santrac: "I guess the chances they took were not the most intelligent ones when you think of the strength they have."

Australia (0-1-1) shocked the pro-China crowd of 13,929 in the 28th minute.

Heather Garriock took a perfectly timed through ball from Danielle Small on the run and, with China goalkeeper Zhao Yan and defender Jie closing in on her, made a left-footed shot that was so slow rolling that it appeared to pick up moss on its way to the back of the net.

By the time the ball came to rest, China had trailed in a Women's World Cup match for only the second time since the Steel Roses lost the 1995 third-place match to the United States, 2-0.

China got even in the first minute of the second half.

Ouying Zhang sent a high cross into the middle of the eight-yard box, where Australia goalkeeper Cassandra Kell attempted to punch the ball out. She made only a glancing blow, though, and the ball came to rest at the feet of Bai Jie, who promptly delivered the game-tying score.

*

Russia 3, Ghana 0 -- Where was Alberta Sackey?

The African female footballer of the year was not in the starting lineup for Ghana. Not on the field at the start of the second half, and, unfortunately for Ghana, not on the pitch until the 58th minute.

By then Russia had built a seemingly insurmountable two-goal lead on its way to a victory over Ghana in Group D play at the Home Depot Center before an announced crowd of 5,000.

With one game left in group play, Russia has reached the quarterfinals and is contending for the top spot in Group D. Ghana, with two losses in two games, is eliminated.

Russia's goals came on a direct free kick by defender Marina Saenko in the 36th minute, a rebound by striker Natalia Barbachina in the 54th minute and a swinging volley by forward Olga Letyushova in the 80th minute.

"I saw the corner of the goal and I tried to score," Saenko said through an interpreter.

Russia, as it did in its opening victory against Australia, confounded Ghana with its counterattack and defensive posture before Saenko's goal changed the game's look and opened it up.

Ghana Coach Okoe Aryee was criticized for his decision to keep Sackey on the bench so long.

Her replacement up front, Myralyn Osei Agyemang, was ineffective, and clearly overmatched at this level.

Aryee gave a vague excuse, saying Sackey needed to see the game unfolding from the bench.

"I did everything he asked of me," said Sackey, who had started 44 straight games for Ghana. "I'm surprised by his remarks. He gave us instructions and I did what he wanted."

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