Preview: Jia urges Steel Roses to find extra gear
Montpellier: Jia Xiuquan is satisfied with China PR’s FIFA Women’s World Cup performances so far, but he called on his side to reach new levels in Tuesday’s Round or 16 clash against Italy at Stade de la Mosson.
The Steel Roses emerged from a Group B containing Germany, Spain and South Africa in third place, conceding just one goal to reach the knockout stage for the seventh time,
Their reward for that achievement is a Round of 16 clash against an Italian side which, in their first appearance on the world stage since 1999, topped a group featuring Australia and Brazil.
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Sitting 15th in the world rankings, Le Azzurre are the only team outside the world top 10 to win their group in France 2019, but Jia rejected any notion that his side has been given an easy draw and urged his charges to continue their recent improvement.
“I don’t think China are favourites,” he said. “But we want to beat the favourites of this tournament.”
“We want to gain recognition from all over the world. In order to do this, we need to give 200 percent. Over the last three games I believe we have done what is required of us, but we can do even better.
“I believe Italy are a great team. From our own perspective we’ve never thought that Italy are a weak team, and it’s perfectly normal that they are in the Round of 16.
“Maybe they haven’t been in the World Cup for a long time, but they have a legacy from history, and its normal that they are improving at a fast speed. Italy have never been a weak team.”
While China’s defensive strength has been proven in tough encounters against Germany and Spain, Jia – a former defender himself – knows stopping an opponent from scoring is only half the battle.
The 56-year-old now wants his team to complete the picture by fulfilling their attacking potential.
“Football games need balance,” said Jia, who lived up to those words by scoring four goals at the 1984 AFC Asian Cup.
“You can’t always attack or always defend. If you keep only attacking or defending, then you can’t win the game. It’s about getting a balance.
“Over the last three games, the team went through a difficult process. From the attacking third I think we could have done a better job, but I believe that as we adjust to the games, I am confident that our attacking third will be better and we can improve our balance.”
Both sides come into the clash after, by tournament standards, long breaks between matches. The Italians have had a week to prepare following their 1-0 loss to Brazil, while Tuesday’s kick-off will take place eight days after China PR secured their place in the last 16.
With star creator Wang Shuang expected to start, and striker Wang Shanshan also back in full training, Jia believes having additional time to prepare has served his team well.
“There are different gaps in tournaments like this,” he said. “This time we had a very long break.”
“The difficult part is to adjust our form, but the good side is our injured players have had time to recover and we’ve been summarising what we’ve been lacking in the past few games and doing targeted preparations.
“To a great extent, I think the adjustment of form and the desire of players need to be combined together to produce a good game, and I’m confident that our players are ready.”
Italian head coach Milena Bertolini is also confident, not only in the readiness of her players, but that they have retained their focus after surprising many by winning Group C.
Bertolini, who celebrated her 53rd birthday on Monday, believes the intense competitiveness of that group, in which the top three teams all finished with six points will serve her side well going forward.
“Coming out of the group stage was a great satisfaction to us,” she revealed.
“I think we played well. We also got lucky, but the positive aspect here is the fact that our group is quite compact and that gave us the extra element to push us forward. We also suffered. We were up against some very difficult opponents.
“The Round of 16 is very difficult, and we are seeing other matches are just as difficult. It’s going to be a very tough match against a very strong opponent.
“We must be mindful, attentive and leave nothing to chance. This mindfulness will make the difference.”
Italy v China PR
FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019 Round of 16
Stade de la Mosson
Kick-off: 18.00 (local time)
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