You would think that after the national team lost to Jordan on Tuesday, things couldn’t get much worse for fans of Chinese football. You would be very wrong. Last night, the Chinese “Steel Roses”, aka the women’s national team, lost a do-or-die match against Australia in Jinan (video
highlights lowlights here).
The women’s team has been slipping in recent years at the same time as an ascending Japan takes over regional dominance, the recently crowned World Cup champions also currently sit atop the group in Olympic qualifying. That said, with two teams advancing to London and China hosting group play, the consensus was that it would be an uphill battle but young manager (and former men’s national teamer) Li Xiaopeng could lead the Roses to London.
Unfortunately, China opened up the campaign drawing against both North and South Korea, putting them in an unexpected hole. They beat up on Thailand (like everyone else has so far), but the North Koreans have been strong in this tournament and were able to beat the Australians and their southern counterparts, giving them 7 points, while China was stuck at 5, setting up their clash against Australia last night.
Much like the men on Tuesday, the Roses came out strong and attacking, trying to get an early lead. China dominated the first half, but had little to show for it. At the half, Li went all out, taking off a midfielder and putting on striker, Han Duan, however not even Han could work magic and get the home side on the board. At the same time, an Aussie corner kick took a few lucky bounces around the box and fell to a Matilda player, whose hard shot beat the keeper and gave them a 1-0 lead in the 62th minute, all they needed on the night to pull out a victory.
An anemic performance from the Chinese, only managing two goals in four matches (and the two came against the Thais, who Japan beat 3-0, and the Matildas beat 5-1). The Chinese women are at quite possibly their lowest point ever, with a string of tough failures that used to be more the provenance of the men’s side. They only reached the quarterfinals of the 2007 Women’s World cup and failed to qualify for this year’s World Cup, they finished 4th at last year’s Asian Cup, and now this (on the heels of only reaching the quarterfinals of the 2008 Olympics). It should be noted that the 2007 Women’s World Cup, the 2008 Olympics, the 2010 Asian Cup, and the 2012 Olympic Qualifying were all played in China, even in front of home crowds, success has been fleeting.
In the past, the Roses have never been shy on talent, but it appears as more and more of the 1999 squad has retired, the new generation doesn’t have the same talent. It doesn’t help that after having one manager for 10 years, China has now had 9 different managers in 10 years, including two foreigners, something that was previously unthinkable. While failures on the men’s side of things lead to intense anger among fans, on the women’s side, it just leads to more apathy and more people ignoring the women’s game.
There will be a distinct lack of Chinese faces in London next year. The men’s and women’s football teams both failed to qualify for the Games, while the men’s basketball team is in danger of missing out as well. From their peak in the early 2000s, Chinese big ball sports are now at an all time low.
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