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Peng grabs chance with both hands

Nice: Chinese goalkeeper Peng Shimeng has defied her young age to emerge as one the revelations of the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019.

Just over a year after bursting onto the scene at the 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup, 21-year-old Peng has announced herself as the Steel Roses custodian for years to come in France, turning in a string of strong performances to help her side reach the knockout stage.

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With 14 saves in three matches, and just one goal conceded, the Jiangsu-born shot-stopper has become a crucial ingredient in Jia Xiuquan’s side, particularly during their 0-0 draw against Spain in which she earned Player of the Match honours.

Peng made nine saves to deny the Spaniards, earning widespread praise – including the nickname of ‘the Great Wall of China’ - and, perhaps understandably, not having much time to focus on the wider ramifications of the result until after the game.

“The moment I enjoyed was the last moment, when the game ended,” she said.

“It wasn’t an easy game for us, but the fact we’re into the next round makes me very happy.

“It was a lot of pressure, even more so in the second half. And this is my first big tournament.”

It is indeed her first tournament on the world stage, but it was her star turn at the 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup Jordan which brought her to the attention of fans.

That selection itself was a long time in the making. Peng’s first taste of tournament football came as a 15-year-old at the 2013 AFC U-16 Women’s Championship in her home province of Jiangsu, before strong performances at two AFC U-19 Women’s Championship campaigns solidified her reputation as China’s goalkeeper of the future.

When experienced shot-stoppers like Zhao Lina and Wang Fei struggled to make the number one shirt their own prior to Jordan 2018, Peng was given the chance and, like a good goalkeeper should, she took it with both hands and didn’t let it spill.

Five consecutive starts in Jordan made the position her own, and now with three superb displays in France under her belt, there appears to be no limits for either Peng or her team.

"Player of Match at the World Cup is just the start, it will motivate me to do better in the future,” she said.

“I really trust this team and I really hope we can go far, so let’s go for it.”

Peng’s next task is to help the Steel Roses overcome Italy in their Round of 16 clash in Montpellier on Tuesday, with a win potentially setting up an all-Asian quarter-final against Japan four days later.

Photos: AFP, AFC

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