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China looking to avenge 1999 World Cup
( 2003-09-22 10:29) (Agencies)

When it was announced that the 2003 Women's World Cup would be played in China, many soccer fans were hoping for a scenario where the host team would play the United States in front of its own crowd to revenge its loss in the 1999 World Cup.

That wish will not come true, however, and now the Chinese will be trying to win its elusive first title in a foreign nation when it begins play against Ghana on Sunday.

The deadly outbreak of the SARS (news - web sites) virus forced FIFA to move the tournament from China to the United States, which beat China 5-4 on penalty kicks to win the World Cup at the Rose Bowl four years ago.

Many of China's top players skipped playing in WUSA this season so they could train together in preparation for hosting the World Cup. However, in May, the tournament was moved to the United States because of the virus.

The Chinese women not only lost the home-field advantage, but they now must play in the United States, where the top-ranked Americans have not lost at home in 24 games.

"This sudden change (caused) some difficulties for the team ... we arranged our training plans and competition schedule as if we would play at home," coach Ma Liangxing said. "But since the World Cup has been relocated, we had to adjust our training plans."

China has the third-most wins in World Cup history behind the United States and Norway, who have combined to win all three titles.

China is led by Sun Wen, who left the WUSA's Atlanta Beat this year to focus on World Cup preparations. Sun, one of the world's top scorers and a star in China, shared FIFA's player of the year award in 2000 and was a key player in the run to the 1999 finals.

Sun, who missed much of her last season with the Beat because of injury, has said she will retire after the tournament.

China has many veteran players, but an influx of younger women on the team means the club lacks major tournament experience.

"Sure, it's hard to compare the Chinese women's team overall with that of 1999. But I don't think us taking aim at the championship is at all unrealistic. We're still a strong, world-class team," Sun told All Sports magazine.

China retained its automatic qualification even after the change of venue and will host the tournament in 2007.

Ghana became the first African team to beat Nigeria in a competitive event, winning 1-0 in a group match of the African Women's championships in 2002. Nigeria exacted its revenge in the final, but second place was enough for Ghana to qualify for its second straight World Cup.

Ghana is paced by goalkeeper Memunatu Sulemana, who is regarded as the best in Africa. On the other end of the field, Nana Amma Gyamfuah is a veteran forward, while Elizabeth Baidu provides a youthful scoring touch.

Ghana was outscored 10-1 in the 1999 tournament, but it managed to earn a tie with Australia.

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