Team in focus: China PR
Kuala Lumpur: Once the standard bearers in Asian women's football, China PR are looking to return to the summit of the global game. With the FIFA Women's World Cup France 2019 draw just two days away, the-AFC.com profiles Jia Xiuquan's side.
Semi-finalists in 1995, and runners-up four years later, China PR were once among the teams to avoid in a Women's World Cup draw, but the Steel Roses are now considered to be among the global game's second-tier nations.
But, while progression beyond the quarter-finals has eluded the national team since 1999, the current generation of Chinese players have shown signs of genuine improvement, particularly since the arrival of Jia as head coach in May.
A breakout star and creative force in AFC Women's Player of the Year Wang Shuang, a miserly defence which has conceded just twice in 12 matches since August, and consistent goals from Wang Shanshan and Li Ying have all contributed to a steady rise in form and confidence.
Their current world ranking of 15th may suggest otherwise, but China PR remains a team many should hope to steer clear of when the draw is made on Saturday.
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Road to France
Then under the tutelage of Icelandic head coach Siggi Eyjolfsson, China PR secured their passage to France 2019 with a minimum of fuss, winning all three of their group stage matches at the AFC Women's Asian Cup in Jordan with ease.
A commanding opening day win against Thailand (4-0) was followed by similarly dominant victories over the Philippines (3-0) and host nation Jordan (8-1), with Li Ying and Wang Shuang running riot for the eight-time champions.
While they were rarely tested in the group stage, China PR fell at the first hurdle in the knockout stage, suffering a 3-1 defeat to eventual winners Japan before bouncing back to defeat Thailand once more in the playoff for third.
Ultimately, the Steel Roses were able to beat the opponents they were expected to in Jordan, but their failure to challenge for the title ultimately led to Eyolfson's replacement in the weeks that followed the tournament.
In a word: stunning. China PR have won 10, drawn one and lost one of their last 12 matches, scoring 55 goals and conceding just two across the four months which have included the Asian Games, Yongchuan International Tournament and EAFF E-1 Championship Qualifiers.
Their Asian Games silver medal in August was the best showing by a Chinese team since 2002, with only a 90th-minute Yuika Sugasawa goal denying them what would have been a first success in the competition in two decades.
While it is true that many of their big recent wins have been against weaker opposition, their 2-0 win over DPR Korea and competitive showings in away defeats against the world champion United States (0-1 and 1-2) in June suggest this is a team capable of competing with the best.
Head coach: Jia Xiuquan
A veteran of 50 caps and an AFC Asian Cup MVP in his playing days, Jia's CV is adorned with high-level experience at both club and international levels in the Chinese game.
Starting in May 2018, his tenure has brought a renewed sense of optimism to the national team, with consistently strong results and performances providing hope that the Steel Roses can blossom in France next summer.
Star player: Wang Shuang
Now five years into her senior international career, 2018 will be remembered as the year Wang went from consistent national team player to fully-fledged star of the Asian game.
The 23-year-old completed two major transfers in 2018, one from Dalian Quanjian to Wuhan in February and a second switch in August to Paris Saint-German, where she has already become the first Chinese player to score in the UEFA Women's Champions League.
With starring roles at the AFC Women's Asian Cup and Asian Games also under her belt, Wang was the worthy recipient of the 2018 AFC Women's Player of the Year award; becoming the first Chinese player to claim the honour since Ma Xiaoxu in 2006.
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