China celebrates Olympic start with soccer win
TIANJIN, China (AP) Before a whistling and howling home crowd, China celebrated the start of competition at the Beijing Olympics on Wednesday night by beating Sweden 2-1 in women's soccer.
Han Duan scored the decisive goal in the 72nd minute. Her 101st career goal touched off a parade of some 30 flag-waving fans around the lower level of the stadium.
Lotta Schelin scored for Sweden in the 38th minute after a sixth-minute goal by Xu Yuan.
Han finished one of the few real chances by either side in the second half. Second-half substitute Wang Dandan played the ball into the penalty area to Xu, who dropped it back for Han to strike with her left foot into the opposite side netting.
The crowd of 37,902 cheered wildly from the moment the teams emerged from the dressing rooms. Armed with inflatable cheer sticks and whistles, the fans roared at kickoff and every time the Chinese brought the ball past midfield. The Swedes were jeered on each foray near the penalty area.
The crowd began a wave in the 11th minute. In the 43rd, one end of the stadium broke into a chant of "C'mon China, win." The chant resumed in the 60th minute, this time engulfing the entire stadium.
The victory between the Group E favorites gives the hosts the upper hand. Both China and Sweden still must play Argentina and Canada. Canada beat Argentina in the opening game earlier Wednesday 2-1.
China was runner-up at the Olympic introduction of women's soccer in 1996 and again at the 1999 Women's World Cup. It has fallen steadily since, failing to make the quarterfinals in Athens four years ago.
Sweden, coming off a semifinal appearance in Athens four years ago, played without forward Hanna Ljungberg, who withdrew from the Olympics on Monday because of a right hamstring injury.
The heat and humidity appeared to catch up with both teams in the final 45 minutes. Play was slower and more sluggish, with fewer quality chances until Han's strike.
The conditions overwhelmed Han, causing her leg to camp as her teammates surrounded and smothered her in celebration. She finally had to leave the game in the 83rd minute.
Early on, China pushed six players forward. That produced a chance in the fourth minute when Bi Yan's corner kick was headed by Li Jie and tipped over the bar by goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl.
The host team capitalized on the early pressure when Weng Xinzhi intercepted a clearing attempt by the Swedish defense, chested down the ball and cracked a 30-yard shot that caromed off the right post. Xu raced in behind a slow to react Swedish defense and put the rebound inside the left post.
China's high-pressure tactics left space for Sweden to exploit. The Scandinavians finally took advantage when Victoria Svensson broke free on the right and played a ball behind the Chinese back line. Schelin ran onto it, touched the ball around goalkeeper Zhan Yannu and put in a right-footed shot off the left post.