Le Havre: China PR head coach Jia Xiuqan was overcome with joy after his side earned the crucial point they needed to advance to the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019 knockout stage on Monday.
The Steel Roses survived 23 Spanish shots at goal, with goalkeeper Peng Shimeng turning in a Player of the Match performance to take her side to the Round of 16 with a 0-0 draw against Spain.
With over 40 years of experience in the game, and not having a reputation for wearing his heart on his sleeve, Jia surprised many - including his star 21-year-old shot-stopper - by showing his emotions after the final whistle.
“I’ve never seen my coach crying before,” laughed a delighted Peng.
“The first time when I saw him crying, I couldn’t help but start crying too. I felt so touched.
“It has been a very tough year for our coach. He worked so hard. He resisted all the pressure and the stress, so I was so touched, and so excited.”
Now in their seventh World Cup, China have never missed the knockout stage when appearing at the Finals, but this was a special achievement, according to Jia.
Drawn in what many considered the most difficult group at France 2019, China defied the odds to progress, having conceded just one goal in three matches, and their boss explained precisely why their efforts had made him so proud.
“First of all, this match was very difficult,” said the former men’s international defender.
“Our players have played really well. I used to be a player myself, so I really understand - even if they don’t say anything - I totally understand how they feel.
“Secondly, to build a strong team, it needs generations. I cannot just be done over one generation. We see the gap between us and the world class teams."
"It’s very difficult, no matter who our opponents are. So, we need to put 200 per cent of our efforts, and we need to do it a concerted way. That’s what I have thought about.
“Although it was a draw, we got one point and that gives us the opportunity to continue in the next round. That means we still have hope, and that’s why I’m so touched by our players’ efforts and spirit.”
Much has been made of China’s proud history in the women’s game, which includes eight AFC Women’s Asian Cup titles and the honour of being the first Asian team to reach a senior World Cup Final in 1999.
Their Round of 16 opponent remains a mystery for now, but whoever his side faces in the knockout stage, Jia says now is the time to embrace the future of Chinese women’s football.
“We cannot keep dwelling on the past,” he declared. “Things are moving forward.
“In 1999 we were the runners-up, then in 2011 Japan was the champion, now you can see there’s such great improvement in Europe. So, we cannot just dwell on the past."
“Everything is improving and moving forward, so I hope we can grasp every opportunity by competing against these strong teams. As a coach, I hope we can really accelerate our improvement and catch-up.
“In the last three games our girls have played with enormous stress and pressure, but they have executed our plans, and they are working towards our goals.”
China PR’s Round of 16 opponents will be confirmed at the conclusion of the group stage, but having finished third in their group, they will face the winners of either Group C or Group D.
Photos: Chinese Football Association, FIFA via Getty Images