Although the US was unbeaten against China in the World Cup and Olympics, the “Steel Roses” may have opportunities to reach the last four this time.
The two teams encountered each other for the first time in the 1995 World Cup when they put up a sensational 3-3 draw in the group stage.
In the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, the “Steel Roses” － including former FIFA Female Player of the Century Sun Wen － met the old rival twice in the campaign. After a boring 0-0 tie in group stage, China lost to the host 2-1 in the gold medal match.
In the 1999 World Cup, the two favourites met in the final and China lost again. After that,the “Steel Roses” started to decline.
Because of concentrated power and lack of supervision, the soccer pitch became a breeding ground for corruption in the early 2000s, which saw 59 officials, referees and club owners, including former Chinese Football Association (CFA) chief Xie Yalong, jailed. Retirements of the golden generation and the thin reserve talent pool, hampered by the management scandals, saw the national teams struggle to regain the world stage in recent years, highlighted by the elimination from the World Cup in 2011.
Wen Lirong, who played on the 1999 World Cup team, applauded the current team and said games should be better promoted nationwide.
Men’s soccer is concentrated on the goal, but women’s soccer is concentrated on the ball. “Women’s soccer has a unique beauty－athleticism combined with feminine charm. I believe with more media coverage the World Cup performance will attract more fans and inspire more young women to play,” said Wen, who now works for the CFA.
“The women’s team experienced a low period, as the men’s counterpart did in the past decade. And we are still struggling uphill to return to full strength,” Yu Hongchen, vice-president of the CFA, said after China’s 1-0 win over Cameroon on Saturday.
The performance of the Chinese national soccer team in the Women’s World Cup has reignited the country’s enthusiasm for a game.
“Today’s result reflects that the entire system behind the women’s national team－including youth recruitment, elite training and logistical support－has been improved as the central government’s soccer-boosting plan envisioned. It inspires greater participation game at the grassroots level. But we still lag behind the world’s elites, and we have a lot of work to do.”
Reforming China’s soccer
Due to President Xi Jinping’s focus on soccer, a comprehensive reform and development plan involving women and youth was approved by the State Council in February, with high expectations of overhauling the game’s management system and improving youth training.
The reforms will delink the semi-administrative CFA from the General Administration of Sport of China, which is now managing the association with its own officials, and make the association a full-fledged nongovernmental organization.
“China will build more than 20 thousands football-oriented school till the year 2020, and we will have over 50 millions children who get basic football skills since then,” Wang Dengfeng, Director of Department of Physical, Health and Arts Education of Ministry of Education of China said at a conference featuring “Sport and Education: EU and China Perspective”, which was held in Beijing Friday.
“But we don’t have enough football coaches in China, and we can offer thousands of jobs for European coaches in the future,” he added. “China will ‘import’ 120 foreign first coaches in 2015, and they will work for 10 months in various provinces of China,” another official said.
According to the Chinese Football Association, the Chinese players will receive “historic-high bonus” for the World Cup, and the bonus will be added if China can step further. The incentive, reported to amount to around one million yuan (about 160,000 U.S.dollars), would be far less than those for the men’s.
Women’s soccer is not professionalized in China. Most of the internationals earn just around 3000 yuan (about 483 dollars) a month in salaries, while the National Bureau of Statistics survey showed the average salary nationwide stood at 4100 per month.
In China’s recent soccer reform, importance is attached to women’s soccer as well. As one of the major goals, the runners-up of 1999 World Cup will be striving to return to the top of the world.
Prospects against US women’s team
Unlike China, the US is always a power in women’s football world, which not only had snatched two World Cup titles, but also won in the Olympics for four times since 1996.
On paper, China may face uphill task against the awe-inspiring US team in the quarterfinal on Friday, but China, who has staged a fresh look in the last three matches in group stage, has what it takes to surprise the world.
Colombia surprised everybody with a brilliant first-half performance against the US and played out a quite balanced 45-minute match, while the US found no clear chances to score and didn’t show out their dominant power.
What’s more, US star players Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday will miss the match against China for two yellow cards on aggregate.
In the post-match interview, many Chinese players have shown their ambitions of beating their old rival.
Striker Wang Shanshan who had scored twice for China in the Cup said: “Our goal of thetournament is the top three.”
Midfielder Wang Shuang said: “There must be many chances for us in the quarterfinal. The semifinal is not unreachable for us.”
In FIFA’s official website, a Canadian internet user named Geo Hardy commented: “I predict China will beat USA in the quarterfinals on Friday with Rapinoe and Holiday out of the lineup.”
“I’ve seen China play live twice in this tournament. Here’s why I think they’ll win: Firstly, they have two extra days rest, having played their last 16 game on June 20; Second, they are outstanding defensively. I don’t think the US will score a single goal,” he added.
That will be good news for Canada, as well. The American women’s teams have always been characterized by arrogance and an inflated sense of great power superiority.
Based on files from Xinhua