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Group B: South Africa 0-1 China PR

Paris: Li Ying helped China PR take a significant step towards the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019 knockout stage, with her goal proving decisive in a 1-0 win over South Africa on Thursday.

Li Ying’s goal, scored just before half time, was the pivotal moment in a match the Steel Roses largely controlled but couldn’t kill off, despite registering three times as many goal attempts as their opponents.

The result puts China PR level with Spain – the side they will meet in the final group stage match in Le Havre on Monday – in Group B with three points, although the Steel Roses remain behind the Europeans on goal difference.

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With Wang Shuang back in the starting line-up in the city she now calls home, China PR immediately seized the ascendancy in a dominant first-half where they produced 12 shots at goal to South Africa’s one.

Strike duo Wang Shanshan and Li Ying provided twin attacking targets from a busy Chinese midfield, who regularly looked to exploit a perceived South African weakness in wide areas by sending in a succession of crosses.

One of their busier wide players, Gu Yasha, spurned a golden chance to score her side’s first goal of the tournament, as she totally miscued her effort after sending Janine van Wyk crashing to the turf with a deft dribbling move.

While that opportunity went begging, it opened the door for China PR’s best period of the match, and when 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup top scorer Li Ying superbly clipped in Zhang Rui’s inch-perfect delivery, they were 1-0 up in the 40th minute.

Jia Xiuquan’s charges were very nearly two goals clear when Wang Shanshan’s header crashed downwards off the underside of the cross bar, but unfortunately for the striker, not all of the ball crossed the goal line, and the single goal margin remained at the interval.

All of Banyana Banyana’s promising attacking moments in the first half had featured speedy Beijing-based striker Thembi Kgatlana, but defender Noko Matlou sent a header narrowly wide to remind China PR of another way the African debutants could threaten.

While they succeeded in keeping their lead intact, China PR’s ability to create chances dried up for most of the second half, with South African goalkeeper Kaylin Swart stopping a header from defender Han Peng, before saving from substitute Yang Li to prevent them from adding to their tally.

The top two sides in the group will reach the knockout stage – an achievement that has never eluded the Steel Roses at a World Cup – but a draw against Spain will also give China PR a strong chance of qualifying as one of the four highest-ranked third placed teams.

Photos: FIFA via Getty Images

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