China were edged out 2-1 by France in Créteil in their final warm-up game before the World Cup. There were still however plenty of positives to take away from the match for the Steel Roses, in what was a fairly even encounter.
China set themselves up in an orthodox 4-4-2 formation with a starting line-up that seems likely to be close to the one which will face Germany on the 8th June. One key omission from the starting eleven was Wang Shuang, who Jia Xiuquan has used sparingly over the past few games in order to give her time to recover from her long season with Paris Saint-Germain.
The early stages of the match were fairly even, as both teams sought to get the ball out wide and use the pace of their attacking players to create problems for the opposition. France came close to scoring ten minutes in, when Valerie Gauvin got on the end of a Marion Torrent cross, only for her header to be excellently saved by Peng Shimeng.
As the half wore on the French midfield were able to secure an increasing share of possession and France began to assert themselves more on the game. Kadidiatou Diani emerged as a constant threat down the left-flank and was regularly able to get past Wang Ying who struggled to deal with her speed and physicality.
Diani would prove to be instrumental in France’s first goal, when on the half-hour mark she fired a ball into the box which China struggled to clear. Torrent lay in wait just inside the penalty area and played a quick pass to Gauvin who slotted home from close range to give France the lead.
Tan Ruyin was substituted off a few minutes after France’s goal. She did not however seem to be suffering from any serious injury. This looked to be just a pre-cautionary measure, given that she has only recently come back from a lengthy injury lay-off. France continued to dominate possession for the remainder of the first-half but were unable to convert this possession into any further clear cut chances and went in at half-time with just a one-nil lead.
The second-half saw the introduction of Wang Shuang on the right-hand side of midfield. Coming on as a half-time replacement for Lou Jiahui. While the opening few minutes of the second-half were scrappy, we didn’t have to wait long to see Wang Shuang’s quality shine through. On the fifty-second minute she split the French defence in two with an excellent through ball to Wang Shanshan, who brought the game level with an immaculate finish. This was Wang Shanshan’s eleventh international goal in as many games, in what has been a prolific run of form. By contrast Wang Shanshan’s partner up-front Yang Li had a fairly anonymous evening, and was replaced by Song Duan shortly after the equaliser, most likely with a view to resting her ahead of the upcoming group games.
France came back strongly after China scored and Peng Shimeng did well to deal with an awkward bounce from a long range shot shortly after the restart. The French midfield soon started to hoover up possession and France’s dominance in the middle of the park quickly returned to the level it had been late in the first-half. And before long, France were back in front. On the fifty-eighth minute Diani picked up the ball on the right-hand side of midfield and the Chinese defence were unable to prevent her from cutting inside and letting off a powerful long range shot which fired France ahead once more.
After Diani’s goal, the game lost a lot of its momentum. Both teams made a number of substitutions with a view to resting key players ahead of their forthcoming World Cup matches. China did try and push for an equaliser in the later stages of the game but struggled to create any real chances as France’s midfield were able to effectively snuff out most of China’s attacks in their early stages.
France’s ability to dominate the midfield for large spells in this match will highlight concerns that still linger about China’s lack of a quality holding midfielder. The team’s inability to contain the speed and physicality of Diani will also be a worry. China’s coaching staff will perhaps need to reassess the way in which they game-plan for defending against similar types of players.
The main positives China can take out of this game are that they looked very competitive playing away against a highly ranked team and that they came away from the game without any serious injuries. Wang Shanshan’s continuing run of good form will be a further cause for optimism. As will Peng Shimeng’s strong performance as she continues to emerge as one of the top young goalkeepers in the women’s game.
Perhaps the important positive to focus on, is that China have a settled squad going into the tournament and no major issues have arisen that will need to be immediately dealt with. With no more warm-up matches left to play, they can now focus on their final week of preparation before their opening game against Germany on the June 8.
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