China coach Shui Qingxia brought her Asian Cup-winning team to Australia hoping to move a step closer to restoring the Steel Roses to their former glories, more than two decades after losing to the United States in the Women’s World Cup final.
The Chinese have struggled to hit similar heights since their 1999 shootout defeat, but a 1-0 win over Haiti on Friday ensures they go into their final group game at this year’s event against England with their chances of a last-16 berth intact.
China has appeared in all but one of the eight previous editions of the Women’s World Cup since it was launched in 1991 and has never failed to progress beyond the group phase when it qualified for the finals.
But a last-minute 1-0 loss in its opener against Denmark in Perth last Saturday put that record in peril, with Shui’s team facing early elimination should it have failed to defeat tournament debutants Haiti at Hindmarsh Stadium.
The omens were not good when Zhang Rui was sent off in the 29th minute, but a penalty 16 minutes from time by substitute Wang Shuang secured victory for the Chinese and sustained their prospects of a place in the knockout rounds.
“When we arrived in Australia for the World Cup, I told the players not to feel pressured,” Shui, a silver medallist for China at the 1996 Olympic Games, said after the game.
“I can take up all the pressure, so long as you display your skills during our daily training and practice. Play the game with a good mood and that’s the best that you can show to the world.
“I have encouraged my girls to show their skills, especially because it’s the first World Cup for some of them.”
Shui has been responsible for an uptick in China’s fortunes since taking over in November 2021, resurrecting belief in the team after a disastrous performance at the Olympic Games in 2021 that saw them finish bottom of their group.
She led China to its first Asian Cup win since 2006 in India three months after her appointment and now takes it into a make-or-break meeting with European champion England on Tuesday knowing a win could take them into the last 16.
England tops Group D with six points, with Denmark and China on three and Haiti bottom after losing their two games.
“England is a very strong team,” said Shui. “I don’t want to make comparisons between the Asian champions and the European champions. Every team has their own characteristics.
“For Team China, lots of people want to see a different Chinese team. I also hope to see my players play to their potential and fight for every opportunity.”
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