The Steel Roses got their first win of the 2019 World Cup after a hard fought win against a determined South African side. While China thoroughly deserved their win, they were rattled at times by a South African team that proved difficult to break down and was dangerous on the counter-attack.
Ahead of the game, the big team news for China was that Wang Shuang would start the match. With concerns about her suffering from fatigue after a long season with PSG, Wang had only come on as a second-half substitute against Germany and had been used sparingly in recent friendlies. The other big change for China was that Yang Li was dropped from the starting eleven following her poor performance against Germany.
China started the match strongly playing some high tempo attacking football. Both Wang Shanshan and Li Ying had chances to score with their head early on, but neither could find the target. As the game settled down South Africa, set out to frustrate China by sitting deep and trying to hit China on the break.
For most of the first-half China’s combative style of defending allowed them to easily snuff out South Africa’s attempts to counter-attack. South Africa did manage to produce a decent chance on the half-hour mark though, when Thembi Kgatlana was able to use her pace to get on the end of a long-ball. But when she did get her shot away, she could only fire it into the side netting.
This scare seemed to galvanise China. As soon after they went onto create a succession of chances, searching for a goal that would put them ahead before half-time. Wang Shuang went close on thirty-two minutes as she fired over from the edge of the area. Shortly afterwards Gu Yasha had China’s best chance up to that point. Gu raced down the left-hand channel and cut inside the penalty area, where a slip from the South African captain Janine Van Wyk put her clean in on goal. But in the end she could only manage a miss-hit shot which was well wide of the mark.
Wang Shanshan was the next player to come close for China, as she carved out a well worked shot which was deflected over the bar. China’s period of sustained pressure did finally bear fruit when Li Ying broke the deadlock on thirty-nine minutes. Zhang Rui whipped an excellent ball into the box, which Li Ying struck home with a superb volley. After the goal South Africa seemed to be on the ropes. China pushed for a second and nearly got it minutes later. Wang Shanshan got on the end of a Wang Shuang corner but saw her header crash off the under-side of the bar before bouncing off the goal-line.
The second-half was a much more evenly matched affair. South Africa looked genuinely threatening early in the first-half as they created a string of chances but were ultimately unable to convert any of these. Kgatlana was by far and away South Africa’s most viable attacking threat and was able to open up the Chinese defence on numerous occasions. With this in mind Jia Xiuquan took the decision to take off Gu Yasha and brought on the more defensively orientated Lou Jiahui in an effort to shore up the left-hand side of midfield.
This switch made a big difference and soon afterwards China were back on top and pressing for a second goal. They did have to survive a scare on the seventy-sixth minute when a defensive mix up provided Kgatlana with a chance to score but her shot was excellently blocked by Lin Yuping.
On eighty-one minutes Yang Li replaced goalscorer Li Ying, as China brought on fresh legs in their search for more goals. Yang Li and Han Peng both came close to scoring in the final ten minutes but were denied by some excellent goalkeeping from Kaylin Swart. In the end China had to settle for a one-nil win against a dogged South African side.
While a hard fought one-nil win against one the tournament’s most unfancied teams isn’t going to be the sort of result that’s going to excite the imagination of many Chinese fans. A win is still very much a win, and in a tournament like the World Cup these cannot be taken for granted.
Following Li Ying’s excellent goal, Jia Xiuquan will feel vindicated in his decision to go with her ahead of Yang Li. Wang Shuang while not at her best, still looked very good and her performance easily justified her place in the starting eleven. It’s more than likely that these two will keep their place in the team that faces Spain.
With Spain losing 1-0 earlier this week, China would like to have won this match by at least a three goal margin, so that a draw in their final group match against Spain would give them the second-place spot in the group. Nonetheless this win keeps them on course for a place as one the four best third-placed teams.
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