China secured their second trophy of 2019 as they beat Russia and Cameroon over the Qingming holiday weekend to win the Wuhan International Tournament.
This was the Steel Roses final competition before the World Cup in France this June. It presented one of the last opportunities for manager Jia Xiuquan to assess his squad and for the team to try and find some form before the tournament. China were in need of a good showing after a disappointing performance in the Algarve Cup in March, where three straight defeats saw them finish dead last out of twelve teams.
The four team knockout tournament took place at the Hankou Cultural Sports Centre in Wuhan and credit must go to the CFA for an excellent venue choice. A relatively small stadium in the centre of the city, the ease of getting to the ground probably added a few thousand to the gate and its small size meant that fans were able to enjoy the atmosphere that comes with watching a game in a largely full stadium.
China 4-1 Russia
China’s semi-final against Russia got off to a terrible start as the home side found themselves trailing after just eight minutes when Nadezhda Smirnova fired Russia into the lead. Russia’s lead would prove to be short lived however when Li Ying equalised less than ten minutes later. Her weakly hit shot somehow managing to bamboozle the Russian goalkeeper. As the half wore on China began to assert their dominance but were unable to convert their abundance of possession into another goal.
In the second half China made a string changes which included Li Ying coming off for Asian Women’s Footballer of the Year Wang Shuang and the introduction of Wang Shanshan. These changes would prove to be the turning point in the match. Wuhan native Wang Shuang’s introduction was warmly welcomed by the home crowd and she was able to pull the strings in an eleven minute spell which produced three goals for China.
Wang Shanshan scored an excellent glancing header from a Wang Shuang corner on the sixty-fifth minute, Duan Song produced a cool finish ten minutes later to make it three and then Wang Shanshan got her second and China’s fourth soon after. The fourth goal effectively ended the game as a contest and booked China place in the final against a Cameroon side who had beaten Croatia earlier in the day.
China 1-0 Cameroon
The final saw an expectant crowd pack into the Hankou Cultural Sports Centre. A sizeable contingent of Henan Jianye fans were in attendance, no doubt relieved that their trip to Wuhan hadn’t been a waste of time following the cancellation of their game against Wuhan Zall. A surprisingly large number of Cameroon fans also turned up to cheer on their team, this group seemingly largely made up of Cameroonian international students studying in the city. While Cameroon did have a few chances early on, for most of the opening stages there was precious little for the Cameroon fans to get excited about as China dominated the early exchanges. As the half wore on Cameroon began to impose themselves more on the game with Gabrielle Onguene looking a constant threat on the counter attack.
China came close to scoring on the thirty-sixth minute with Gu Yasha not quite being able to get on the end of a well worked set-piece. China did however break the deadlock three minutes later. Wang Shanshan bundled the ball into the goal after it had been spilled by Ndom. Ndom is keeper whose goalkeeping style has in the past been described as being akin to a chicken flapping at a disco and she was true to form with this howler which gifted China the lead. The second half saw China struggle as the Cameroonians used their physicality to dominate the midfield. China did have some chances in the second half though. Yang Li came closest to scoring when her sixty-fifth minute header was denied by the woodwork.
With no second goal, China had to rely on a dogged defensive display to secure victory. Wu Haiyan did an excellent job of marshalling China’s defence as they were pushed into defending deeper and deeper as Cameroon pressed for an equaliser. Cameroon continued to fight right up until the very end and gave China a fright on the eighty-fourth minute when Alexandra Takounda Engolo hit the post from a difficult angle. Ultimately however China were able to hold on, hold their nerve and close the game out.
Next Stop France
The last ten years have not been easy for the Chinese women’s team it’s been over a decade since they last won the Asia Cup and nearly twenty years since they progressed beyond the quarter-finals of a World Cup. Winning a tournament on home soil by just managing to edge out a team ranked thirty places lower than themselves may not fill Chinese fans with a lot of confidence going into the World Cup. The Steel Roses will definitely face sterner tests this summer in a tough group featuring tournament favourites Germany as well as Spain and South Africa.
There are still however, plenty of positives to take away from this tournament. China played some excellent football in the second half against Russia and Wang Shanshan seems to be in an excellent run of form with ten goals in her last ten international appearances. Perhaps most importantly, the win against Cameroon showed us that the team has the mental fortitude to grind out difficult wins against tough physical opponents.
Jia Xiuquan recently said “Our ultimate goal for the World Cup is to be the champions.” While this might be a tad optimistic, with just one friendly match against World Cup hosts France left before the finals, winning this tournament should hopefully give the team an increased sense of confidence which they can carry with them into the World Cup.
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