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All You Need To Know: China PR

Kuala Lumpur: The first Asian nation to reach FIFA Women’s World Cup Final in 1999, eight-time Asian champions China PR are looking to be bring back the glory days at France 2019.

With just four days remaining until the tournament begins, tells you all you need to know about China PR.

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The facts

World Ranking: 16
FIFA Women’s World Cup appearances: 7 (1991-2007, 2015-19)
Best result: Runners-up (1999)
Canada 2015: Quarter-finals (lost 1-0 to United States)
Group stage opponents: Germany, South Africa, Spain (Group B)


All You Need To Know - China PR

Road to France

The first Asian team to seal their place in the Finals, China PR left little to chance with a dominant group stage at the AFC Women’s Asian Cup Jordan 2018, recording back to back wins over Thailand (4-0), Philippines (3-0) and Jordan (8-1).

The Steel Roses went on to suffer a 3-1 semi-final defeat to Japan, before defeating Thailand by the same margin in the play-off for third, with Icelandic boss Siggi Eyólfsson replaced as head coach two weeks later.

Head coach: Jia Xiuquan

The top scorer and Most Valuable Player at the 1984 AFC Asian Cup, Jia (pictured above) is former men’s international with vast experience at both senior club and international youth level in China.

Appointed in May 2018, this is his first role in the women’s game. He is China PR’s third head coach since the previous Women’s World Cup.

Pre-tournament form

Unbeaten at home since 2017 but winless in their last four away matches, China PR’s pre-World Cup form has provided a study in contrasts, with an 11th place finish at March’s Algarve Cup in Portugal bookended by friendly tournament wins in China in January and April.

Despite their difficulties in winning on the road, there have been occasional positives in defeat, particularly in Friday’s 2-1 loss to World Cup hosts France, where China PR defended solidly, and had moments of quality going forward against a side considered one of the tournament favourites.

Key player: Wang Shuang

The 2018 AFC Women’s Player of the Year and the rising star of Chinese football, Wang Shuang (pictured above) is the team’s glamour player and most recognised international star.

A highly-publicised move to Paris Saint-Germain - followed by seven league goals and the first by a Chinese player in the UEFA Women’s Champions League - make her a familiar figure in the host country, and her connection with either Wang Shanshan, or AFC Women’s Asian Cup top scorer Li Ying will be crucial to her side’s prospects in attack.

The defensive contribution of captain Wu Haiyan will also be key, but at 24 years old and in her second World Cup, all eyes will be focused on Wang Shuang when China PR’s campaign begins.

Young gun: Peng Shimeng

A standout in the AFC U-19 Women’s Championship in 2017, Peng (pictured above), 21, surprised many but owning the Chinese goalkeeping position in all five matches at the 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup.

Three starts in China PR’s last four matches, including a fine display against France on Friday, puts Peng in pole position to be the side’s number one on the world stage.

Still going strong: Gu Yasha

Gu (pictured above), 28, is far from the oldest player in the squad - 30-year-old Zhang Rui holds that mantle – but she has already experienced the career of a fully-fledged veteran.

An Olympian and AFC Women’s Asian Cup starter over a decade ago in 2008, Gu remains a key creative force in Jia’s side and scored as recently as January’s 1-0 win over Korea Republic.

Key match: v Spain

In a streak stretching back to 2009, China PR have lost their last six matches against first-up opponents Germany, but they will be confident of getting a result against a South African side in the midst of a 10-match winless run.

That could leave everything riding on the Matchday Three clash against ever-improving Spain, who breezed through European qualifying with eight successive wins, but are still looking for their first victory on the world stage.

The final word

Jia believes, if his side play with the ‘heart of champions’, there are no limits to what can be achieved in France, and they have every reason to be confident of emerging from their group.

If they are to reach the latter stages of the tournament, China PR will have certainly earned it, with even a second-place finish in Group B putting the Steel Roses on a potential collision course with current holders the United States in the Round of 16.

Photos: Chinese Football Association, AFP

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