Late goal lifts U.S. women over China, 2-1

Score by sub Venturini wins exhibition match

April 23, 1999|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

HERSHEY, Pa. -- The U.S. national team gave itself a psychological boost last night, edging China, one of its main rivals for women's soccer supremacy, 2-1, on virtually the game's final play.

Substitute Tisha Venturini's goal two minutes into stoppage time was the winner, only two minutes after she had entered the game wondering why she had been put in so late.

U.S. coach Tony DiCicco, in his 100th game, said he had told the rail-thin Venturini, once a U.S. starter but now struggling to get back into the lineup, that he would try to sub her in late "to score a goal."

He was clairvoyant, as it turned out, as she hustled to slam in a 5-yard shot off a hard, low cross from the right side by Mia Hamm. Hamm's shot had bounded off substitute, 6-foot-1 goalkeeper Han Wenxia, who had bedeviled the Americans several times earlier.

"I was upfield when I saw Mia with the ball, and I just ran for the box, because that's where I knew she was going," Venturini said.

The goal sent a sellout crowd of 15,257 on a perfect spring evening at Hershey Stadium into loud cheers after a chess match of a game leading up to this summer's Women's World Cup.

Lots of play occurred between the penalty boxes, with only 13 total shots on goal (8-5, United States) being taken amid numerous chippy fouls (20 of 32 called against China) that have characterized the series between the two national teams.

The crowd was the third-largest ever to watch a U.S. women's team exhibition that was not part of a doubleheader -- and the game carried some psychological baggage for the Americans.

"The way they're playing right now, if we're able to make the World Cup final, we may very well see them again," DiCicco said. "So this is big for us. They and Norway are the two best in their bracket."

The U.S. team will play China again even sooner, on Sunday at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., in another exhibition match.

Last night, China showed that it, indeed, is a threat to the widely presumed American domination of women's world soccer.

China, like the United States, is seeded in the third Women's World Cup that begins in 59 days. The Chinese, runners-up to the U.S. team at the 1996 Olympics, gave the Americans one of their rare defeats, 2-1, at the Algarve Cup in Portugal, a tournament the Americans have never won, on March 24.

With the crowd silent, the game tame and the Americans leading and controlling play last night, China tied the score 1-1 against the flow of play in the 54th minute, being awarded a direct kick about 32 yards from the American goal.

Captain Sun Wen's hard restart shot soared over the American wall, hitting the top left of the goal with U.S. keeper Briana Scurry unable to get near it.

The United States had broken on top 1-0 in the 20th minute after Hamm, fed nicely by defender Brandi Chastain, was tripped as she broke into the left top of the Chinese box, drawing a penalty kick.

Veteran midfielder Michelle Akers' hard, low penalty shot beat the goalkeeper to the left side, even though she touched it. The goal was the 101st of Akers' international career.

Pub Date: 4/23/99

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