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Heartbreak for China as they are knocked out of the Women’s World Cup

Italy proved to be too good for China on a sweltering evening in Montpellier. The Steel Roses dominated large spells of the game, but in the end a goal in each half from Le Azzurre brought an end to China’s World Cup dreams.

Going into the match Jia Xiuquan named an unchanged line-up for the second game in a row. Italy made just one change from the side that lost one-nil to Brazil in their final group game, with Valentina Bergamashi replacing Aurora Galli in midfield.

A lot of the pre-match discussion centred around how China would approach the game. After China’s cagey defensive performances against Germany and Spain, many expected them to sit deep and try to frustrate Italy. This turned out not to be the case however, as from the get-go China showed their willingness to push forward and try to create chances.

While China looked promising going forward early on, they also looked extremely fragile at the back. This fragility was exposed ten minutes in, when a through ball split China’s defence and put Valentina Giacinti in on goal. Giacinti put the ball into the net with a cool finish, but China breathed a sigh of relief when it was ruled out for off-side.

Giacinti again came close to putting Italy ahead a few minutes later, when a mistake from Han Peng gave her the ball on the edge of the Chinese box. Giacinti fired off a quick shot but it was just wide of the target. Giacinti did finally put Italy ahead on fifteen minutes. The goal stemmed from another Chinese defensive error. This time it was Linyu Ping who was at fault, when her botched clearance gave Giacinti possession deep in China’s half. Giacinti took the ball and passed to Barbara Bonansea who played Elisa Bartoli in on goal. Peng Shimeng did well to close her down and block Bartoli’s shot, but Giacinti was on hand to slot home the rebound.

Peng did well to block Bartoli’s shot

China responded well after going behind. While they still continued to look vulnerable defensively for the rest of the half, they proceeded to go forward and attack with a confidence and chemistry previously unseen in the tournament.

This new found confidence almost bore fruit just before the half-hour mark, when Wang Yan came close to giving China an equaliser with a swerving long range shot that Giuliani could only tip over the bar.  A few minutes later though and Italy came close to extending their lead. A long ball from Guangni found Bergamshi who cut inside to right-hand side of the box and let off a powerful shot, forcing a superb point -blank save from Peng.

This would prove to be Italy’s last major chance of the half however as China dominated the remainder, playing their best football of the tournament. On the forty-second minute Wang Shanshan got on the end of Wang Shuang free-kick and saw her effort bounce off the post. While this effort was flagged as offside, Italy were visibly rattled.  China continue to pile on the pressure for remaining minutes against an Italian team for whom half-time could not come fast enough. In the end though some dogged defending from Italy saw them hold onto their lead and prevented China from capitalising on their spell of dominance.

At half-time China replaced Gu Yasha with Yang Li as they looked to press for an equaliser. As the second-half got underway China’s defence was still looking unsettled and struggled to play the ball out from the back. They were punished five minutes into the half when substitute Galli extended Italy’s lead with a well taken low shot from the edge of the D.

Just after the hour-mark, with the game slipping away from China and the heat starting to take it toll on his players Jia made a double substitution. Song Duan and Yao Wei replaced Wang Shanshan and Wang Yan, as Jia sought to re-energise his team ready for the final phase of the match. 

These substitutions seemed to have positive impact as for the remainder of the match China were able to control most of the possession. They proceeded to play a risky high pressing game as they desperately sought a way back into the match. China put in a lot of good balls but Italy remained solid at the back and were ultimately able to deal with everything China had to throw at them.

Wu Haiyan shields the ball from Aurora Galli

In the end, as the clock ticked down China were unable to produce the necessary quality in the final third that could have pulled them back into the game. Italy were deserving winners, but with amount of possession China had, questions will be asked as to why they weren’t able to do more with it. Questions will also be asked about the team’s defending, which was at times extremely poor.

This might be the last World Cup for veterans Lou Jiahui and Zhang Rui

While this has not been a disappointing tournament for China and there is no shame is going out after a battling performance against a very capable team. China will definitely feel this was a game that could perhaps have won, had they been more steely at the back and shown a little more cutting edge when going forward. But in the end they are left to ponder on ifs, buts and what might have beens.  

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