(ussoccer.com) The U.S. Women’s National Team scored a 77th minute goal off a header from midfielder Shannon Boxx to earn a 1-0 victory over China and win the 2008 Four Nations Tournament. It was the first tournament title for new U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage.
The U.S. team swept almost all of the tournament awards as midfielder Lindsay Tarpley scored four times to earn the Top Scorer award, forward Heather O’Reilly was named Tournament MVP, Sundhage was named Best Coach and the USA also won the Fair Play Award, going three games without getting a yellow card. Chinese net-minder Zhang Yanru was named Best Goalkeeper.
Boxx’s goal came after defender Lori Chalupny had burst past a defender outside the penalty box on the right side only to be been scythed down, earning a free kick.
The initial service was cleared off a Chinese head, but the ball fell to defender Becky Sauerbrunn on the right wing and she sent a looping service back into the middle. Boxx got a bit of separation from her defender and arched her body to send a looping header over the Chinese goalkeeper into the right corner from 11 yards out. The goal was the 18th of Boxx’s international career. It was Sauerbrunn’s first career assist.
The USA came into the match needing just a draw to win the tournament, but it was China who played the more conservative game, dropping way back into a low-pressure defense, often getting all 11 players behind the halfway line when the U.S. defenders had the ball. The Steel Roses stayed in their 4-5-1 formation until late in the game when they finally tried to push some players forward in search of an equalizer.
The low-pressure tactics forced the Americans into a more patient possession game, as well as a formation change in the second half. The U.S. team moved from a 4-4-2 with O’Reilly playing wide on the left, to a 4-3-3 with Abby Wambach at center forward, O’Reilly coming down the right and halftime substitute Tobin Heath on the left.
The USA out-shot China 12-2 for the match, but the boisterous crowd, seemingly all armed with bang sticks, created an electric atmosphere as they urged their team forward.
China’s most dangerous chance came in the 13th minute when star forward Han Duan evaded U.S. captain Christie Rampone with a masterful juke at the top of the box and lashed a left-footed shot that was brilliantly saved by U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo, who flew backwards to tip the ball over the crossbar.
China created most of its danger off three free kicks from outside shooting range. Solo had to grab two services that skidded into the penalty box and saw one cross flash through the goal mouth and out of bounds.
The U.S. put half of its 12 shots on frame, but dangerous chances were definitely at a premium against the organized and committed Chinese defense.
In the 32nd minute, O’Reilly tore into the penalty area on the left side and chipped a cross through the goal box. Zhang leaped to get a hand to it, changing the trajectory just enough to throw Boxx off-balance and she miss-hit her volley a yard wide right of the open net.
In stoppage time of first half, the USA took a short corner kick and midfielder Carli Lloyd fired a cross in on the ground. In a mad scramble, no U.S. player could get a solid swing at the ball and Zhang was able to corral it.
China definitely got the memo on Tarpley, who had scored twice in the two previous matches, Zhang Tong blanketing her for the entire first half and giving her little space to create. Tarpley was replaced at halftime by Angie Woznuk, who earned her third cap.
Lloyd came close to scoring on a set play three minutes into the second half, but Zhang pushed her 25-yard blast off the cross bar and out for a corner kick.
O’Reilly had a nice chance in the 54th minute after Wambach won ball at midfield and played her through down the right flank, but with a defender on her left hip, she cut her shot wide of the left post. In the 68th minute, Heath showed some crafty skills, beating her player in the left side of the penalty box and dribbled straight down the goal line to the near post. She cut the ball back to O’Reilly, but she knocked her contested shot over the goal.
In the 83rd minute, O’Reilly set up substitute Amy Rodriguez will a perfect slip pass behind the Chinese defense on a lightning counter-attack. Rodriguez got her shot on frame, but Zhang got a few fingers on it to push it outside the right post.
O’Reilly’s impact in taking players on and creating danger down the flanks during all three matches was so great that she won the tournament MVP award without scoring a goal.
The USA has now won the Four Nations Tournament six out of the seven times it has attended the competition. The USA won in 1998, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008, failing to take top honors only in 2002. The nine goals over the three games were also the most ever scored in a single Four Nations Tournament by the USA, besting its previous high by three.
Veteran U.S. defender Cat Whitehill did not see any action in the Four Nations due to an ankle injury suffered right before the tournament started. Becky Sauerbrunn and Ali Krieger shared minutes next to the ever-steady Rampone in the center of the defense and both performed admirably in their first-ever caps. Sauerbrunn played against China wearing a mask after breaking her nose against Canada in the first match. Rampone played all 270 minutes in the tournament, marshalling a defense that gave up just one goal over three matches.
In the first match of the day, Canada pulled out a last gasp tie with Finland, scoring its first goal of the tournament in the fourth minute of second half stoppage time as Jodi-Ann Robinson fired on a 25-yard blast into the left corner just 30 seconds before the final whistle. Canada earned third-place and Finland finished fourth.
The U.S. team now returns to the United States and will reconvene at the beginning of February for a training camp at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. The roster for that camp will be announced in the near future.
ussoccer.com Woman of the Match: Shannon Boxx