Football: Sleepless and second

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DESPITE ITS billing as a grudge match, China's defeat on penalties to the United States in the Women's World Cup final in California on Saturday brought admiration from Chinese fans.

"Both teams played their best. Finally it came down to luck," said Meng Xianyu, one of 60 fans packed into the smokey Soccer Buff's Cafe in the Chinese capital.

Fans throughout Peking spent a sleepless night waiting to watch their team take on the Americans, shown live on television at 4am local time.

Sport and nationalism always mix in China - many Chinese see victory as a sign of national power. Given the bad political blood after the Nato bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia, many Chinese seemed out for revenge. In anticipation of possible trouble, a bus-load of 30 police waited by the US Embassy.

In the contest's final moments, fans in the Soccer Buff's Cafe pulled out a large Chinese flag and chanted: "World Cup! China!" They hurled expletives and paper missiles at the screen when the US coach, Tony DiCicco, appeared.

"Put a missile in their net," one fan, Wang Ji-Lei, shouted at the restaurant's television screen in obvious reference to the bombs that struck the Chinese Embassy two months ago.

Even though the Chinese were disappointed with the outcome of the match, which their team lost in the shoot-out, Wang Zhan-Jun, a cafe regular, said: "It's a normal thing to lose on penalty kicks. Even Italy's greatest star, Baggio, missed a penalty kick in a World Cup. That's not so bad."

Letter from Peking, page 7