World

Shui vows to revive China as Steel Roses wilt on global stage

ADELAIDE : China’s latest global challenge ended with a thrashing handed out by a familiar foe on Tuesday in a loss that underscored once more how far the Steel Roses have fallen since their sole appearance in the Women’s World Cup final 24 years ago.

Dutch coach Sarina Wiegman masterminded England’s thumping 6-1 win in Adelaide, two years after overseeing an even more emphatic 8-2 dismantling of the Chinese while in charge of the Netherlands at the Olympic Games.

That defeat was seen as a humiliation for a country that had been a major force in women’s football, reaching the final of both the 1996 Olympic Games and the 1999 Women’s World Cup, losing narrowly to the United States both times.

But coach Shui Qingxia is unlikely to meet the same fate as her predecessor, Jia Xiuquan, who left his post after the Olympic exit. A victory at last year’s Women’s Asian Cup should be enough to earn the 56-year-old former midfielder a reprieve.

The unexpected title win achieved in India in February 2022 had masked the distance the Chinese have slipped behind the leading sides in the global game, at least until Wiegman’s side cast aside any doubts over China’s status.

“From the current situation we can see there’s a huge gap between us and the European teams,” a crestfallen Shui said after a loss that condemned China to third place in Group D behind England and Denmark.

“We are not going to see this gap and do nothing, but rather we will do things like transition and balance and physicality.

“I want to evaluate these shortcomings and work harder on them because we have more games to come in the future. This generation’s efforts will help the generations that follow.”

Shui faces a daunting task to achieve a turnaround in a squad dominated in every way by England as she prepares for the Asian Games and the next phase of Asia’s qualifiers for the Olympics in Paris.

Only three members of her squad in Australia play professionally in Europe, where most of the rapid development in the women’s game has been happening over the past five years.

China’s draconian response to the COVID-19 pandemic also heavily impacted football’s fortunes, with the domestic league suffering disruption and border controls limiting opportunities for friendly matches.

But Wang Shuang, the darling of the Steel Roses squad, surprised fans in China by saying her team’s elimination in the group phase was “not necessarily a bad thing”.

“It allows us all to see the gap between us and premier league teams, the teams in the U.S.,” the 28-year-old Racing Louisville forward said.

“I always ask myself this question, why can we never get what we want even though we train so much harder and put in much more things than the European players?

“I can guarantee you we trained harder than players from any other countries, but that’s football.”

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