The Steel Roses have guaranteed themselves a place in the knockout stages of the Women’s World Cup with a hard fought nil-nil draw against Spain in Le Havre. In a game Spain dominated from start to finish, China were able to hold their nerve and get the vital result they needed.
China went into this match knowing a win would have seen them progress to the knock-out stage as the second-placed team in the group and a draw would also have guaranteed their progression as one of the group stage’s six best, third-placed teams. A defeat would not necessarily have put them out of the tournament, but it would have made them dependent on results in upcoming matches in other groups. The big caveat of this whole situation was that a win, would most likely have set up an unenviable round of 16 match-up against the USA.
There was no big team news for China ahead of the match, as Jia Xiuquan went with the same eleven that had started against South Africa. Spain, by contrast made three changes to the team that had lost to Germany last Wednesday; with Leila Ouahabi, Patricia Guijarro and Lucía García all coming into the side.
China had an early scare, when two minutes in a Lucia Garica through ball spilt the defence and put Garcia Nahikari in on goal. China were saved by Peng Shimeng who instinctively rushed out to the edge of her area and blocked the oncoming Nahikari, allowing Lin Yuping to recover the situation. This incident set the tone for much of the game’s early stages, as Spain looked to turn the screw on a Chinese team that was struggling to settle into the game.
As the half progressed, it became clear that China’s game plan was going to be to sit back and try and hit Spain on the break. Spain on the other hand, seemed keen to chase the win and continued to press hard for a goal, producing an array of chances and half-chances. Jennifer Hermoso came very close to giving Spain the lead on thirty-eight minutes when she had a powerful header excellently saved by Peng.
Spain dominated possession for almost the entire first-half as China consistently struggled to play the ball out from the back. China did manage to gain some momentum towards the end of the first-half, where they enjoyed a few spells of sustained possession. During this period they created perhaps their best chance of the game when Wang Shuang broke free and put in a cross to the far post, which Li Ying failed to connect with.
Given the extent of Spain’s dominance in the first half, it was surprising that when half-time came around China didn’t make any major changes. The only change they did make was Yang Li replacing Wang Shanshan, who had picked up a knock in the first-half.
The second-half played out in a similar vein to the first, as China looked to batten down the hatches and hold onto a draw. For large periods of the match it looked like this strategy would end in disaster. As Spain piled on the pressure, it started to look like more of a case of when, not if, China would concede.
Nahikari Garica looked certain to score on fifty-two minutes, when she got on the end of another great ball from Lucia Garcia. However she wasted the chance with a poor shot that was well off target. A few minutes later Lucia herself had a chance, when a well worked free-kick put her in position for a close-range shot, but her effort was superbly blocked by Lin Yuping.
In an effort to try and stem the tide, the struggling Wang Shuang was replaced by Li Wen but it was to little avail. On the hour mark, Patricia Guijarro fired in a shot from the edge of the area forcing a great save from Peng. Peng did well to push the powerful shot out wide and not parry it into the path of the incoming Lucia Garcia.
As the match moved into its later stages, China began to look very tired and were found lacking in composure when they did find themselves in Spain’s half. Spain continued to threaten however and would have taken the lead on the eighty-third minute, were it not for another excellent save from Peng. Who dived at full stretch to palm out a well hit edge of the area strike from Patri Guijarro.
Peng was called upon minutes later to produce her final piece of heroism in the match, when she superbly tipped over a testing shot from Hermoso. Shortly after this Yao Wei replaced Gu Yasha, as China sought to bring on fresh legs to help them see out the final few minutes. In the end, the remaining minutes did not pose too many problems and the Steel Roses were able to hold on for a famous draw.
While this was certainly not the prettiest of performances, some gritty defending and a standout performance from goalkeeper Peng Shimeng ensured China got the point they needed to progress to the Round of 16. There they will face the winners of either Group C or D.
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