China celebrates start of Olympics with 2-1 win
TIANJIN, China(AP) Han Duan scored her 101st goal, enabling host China to celebrate the start of competition at the Beijing Olympics with a 2-1 victory over Sweden on Wednesday.
Han's goal in the 72nd minute sparked an eruption by the boisterous crowd of 37,902 at Tianjin Olympic Sports Center Stadium, and started a parade of about 30 flag-waving Chinese fans around the lower level.
``This was a tough opponent and there was big pressure for us in the first match,'' China coach Shang Ruihua said. ``It was a classic start. After we scored, we were a little bit nervous.''
After a furious first half, the game settled in the final 45 minutes and seemed headed for a draw. Lotta Schelin finished a rapid counter in the 38th with a classic finish, equalizing for Sweden after a sixth-minute strike by Xu Yuan.
Han finished one of the few quality 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.
``Han is one of the best strikers in the world,'' Xu said. ``It's my pleasure to play with her. We are different kinds of strikers, and we can support each other well. Perhaps that's why we scored with good combinations.''
The animated crowd roared from the moment the teams emerged from the dressing rooms.
Armed with inflatable cheer sticks and whistles, they howled at kickoff and every time the Chinese brought the ball past midfield, jeering the Swedes on each foray they made near the penalty area.
The crowd began a Mexican wave in the 11th minute, and in the 43rd, one end of the stadium broke out into a chant of ``Come on China, win.'' The chant resumed in the 60th, this time engulfing the entire stadium.
China pushed six players forward early which produced a chance in the fourth minute, when Bi Yan's corner was headed by Li Jie, and had to be tipped over the bar goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl.
They capitalized on the early pressure when Weng Xinzhi intercepted a clearing attempt by the Swedish defense, chested down the ball and cracked a 30-meter (yard) shot that caromed off the right post. Xu raced in behind a slow to react Swedish defense, and calmly put the rebound inside the left post.
``We made some mistakes. The defense cost us a lot,'' Sweden coach Thomas Dennerby said. ``There first goal came from one of our mistakes. They took it right down the middle.
``From the 15th to the 70th minute, it was a Sweden game. We had good chances to score a second goal, but again we made a small mistake.''
China's high-pressure tactics left space for Sweden to exploit, and 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 in stride, touched the ball around goalkeeper Zhan Yannu at the 18, and put a right-footed shot in off the inside of the left post.
``When they scored, it took us a couple of minutes to recover,'' Svensson said. ``Then we started to play better.''
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 2-1 earlier Wednesday.
Runners-up at women's football's introduction into the Olympics in 1996 and again at the 1999 Women's World Cup, China 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.
While the first half produced many chances, the heat and humidity of the night 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, replaced by Lou Jiahui.