MELBOURNE, Australia - The whistle blew, the match was over, and as the Americans trudged off the field yesterday, the Chinese trotted toward their throng of flag-waving fans, jumped over a fence, raised their hands and took a bow.
In everyone's estimation, they had won a 1-1 tie.
"We took note of their reaction," said Julie Foudy, who scored for the Americans while the spectacular Sun Wen scored for the Chinese. "I told the team, `They're celebrating, we're disappointed, and it was a tie. That tells you where we're at.'"
It was a rematch of last summer's Women's World Cup final between these teams before 90,125 at the Rose Bowl, won by the United States on penalty kicks after 120 minutes without a goal.
This time, there were 32,500 fans on hand - double the crowd for the U.S. opener - and among them were first daughter Chelsea Clinton, Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala and thousands of supporters from Melbourne's rich Chinese population, dressed in red and chanting, "Chi-NA! Chi-NA!"
And instead of an American romp, the action was intense.
There was bickering with the referee. There was up-and-down action because China has evolved from a ball-control team into an aggressive, punch-it-up team since last summer. There was sly gamesmanship by the Chinese - and a biting comment from the U.S. coach. There was a penalty kick that was missed.
Both teams had chances to win, but China was perhaps luckiest not to lose.
"In my view, it was an excellent and exciting match," China coach Ma Yuanan said through an interpreter. "I'm really satisfied with the performance of the Chinese team. The players are excited and joyous because they played very hard, and there were some unexpected occasions as well."
China dominated the first 35 minutes: U.S. goalkeeper Siri Mullinix had to be sharp. But then U.S. forward Tiffeny Milbrett, who had been brilliant against Norway, got the ball about 35 yards from the Chinese net and turned her body, and the momentum of the match turned with her.
The Americans dominated for the next 30 minutes. Gao, known for her gamesmanship, had to be sharp. But then the referee called U.S. superstar Mia Hamm for a handball just outside the penalty area.
Sun, playing on an injured knee that kept her out most of the summer, performed her specialty: a free kick. Goal.
Hamm was incensed. Frustrated up to that point by the officials, who had called her for three fouls and two offside, she yapped enough to the referee to draw a yellow card.
Then, in the 27th minute, came the game's defining moment. Milbrett streaked down the left side, entered the penalty area and fired a crossing pass that nailed the left arm of defender Jin Yan, who was attempting a slide tackle. Hand ball.
This time, the Chinese were outraged. A group of them circled the referee, screaming protests. Fan Yunjie received a yellow.
When Kristine Lilly set up to take the penalty kick, Gao showed off her infamous nature. Playing mind games, she refused to stand on the goal line until forced by the referee. Lilly lined up. She shot left. Gao dove right and made the save.
Afterward, because their record against China this year is 0-1-2, and because their final group match Wednesday against Nigeria is suddenly more important, the Americans' mood was dark.
Asked why she and her players were so upset after such an electric draw, while the Chinese were so pleased, Heinrichs said simply, "That's the way we take every tie. Our standards are very high."