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China faces challenges at World Cup beyond Brazil and Denmark

China faces challenges at World Cup beyond Brazil and Denmark

China was set to host the women's World Cup four years ago when a deadly outbreak of SARS forced organizers to move it to the United States.
The tournament finally returns to China but the home team _ once one of the world's best _ has been plagued by criticism that it can no longer compete with top squads like the United States and Germany.
"Our goal right now is to get to the quarterfinals. But everyone has a goal in their hearts to get to the finals, of course," team captain Li Jie said.
The 1999 World Cup runner-up lacks a recognizable star and was reeling after dropping four straight games at the Algarve Cup earlier this year, including a 4-1 loss to tiny Iceland. Since then, the 11th-ranked team has hired its first foreign coach _ Marika Domanski-Lyfors, who led Sweden to the finals of the 2003 World Cup.
"Any team that can get to the World Cup has its strengths and weaknesses. China has been training together for so long, so we think we can win as long as we play our best," Li said.
To reach the quarterfinals, the "Steel Roses" first have to overcome serious competition from Brazil and Denmark in group D games. New Zealand, which has six teenagers on its World Cup roster, is the underdog in the group.
Group D matches begin Sept. 12 with a doubleheader in Wuhan, a central Chinese city of 8 million that sprawls across both banks of the Yangtze River. New Zealand will take on Brazil, followed by Denmark vs. China.
Like its men's side, Brazil is known for its fast-paced, creative style. They're led by Marta, the FIFA player of the year, whom Pele himself referred to as "Pele in skirts."
"Brazil obviously has a South American flair and is a very offensive team, attacking minded. And one-on-one, they can do all the tricks, New Zealand defender Maia Jackman said in an interview. "They're going to be a tough opponent.
The Brazilians enter the World Cup boosted by a Pan American Games title in July in Rio de Janeiro. They clinched the gold medal by routing an under-20 American squad 5-0, after an earlier 7-0 drubbing of Canada during which the 1.54-meter-tall (5-foot-1) Marta scored five goals.
"When one of us receives the ball we already know exactly where we're going to pass it, because we instinctively know where the other is going to be making a run," Cristiane, Marta's striker partner, said on FIFA's Web site.
Led by coach Jorge Luiz Barcellos, No. 8-ranked Brazil is seeking its first World Cup title. The Brazilians were runners-up to the United States in the Athens Olympics in 2004.
Sixth-ranked Denmark heads into the tournament having never played Brazil or New Zealand. Their last meeting with China was a 6-0 shutout loss at the 2006 Algarve Cup.
"That six-nil game is in the past and we're different now and they're a different team too," said captain Katrine Pedersen. "It's not a game that we're going to think about when we play China."
The Danes are known for their technical skills and a well-organized playing style. Three seasoned veterans form the core of their 4-3-3 lineup: center back Pedersen (126 international appearances, 4 goals), center midfielder Anna Dot Eggers Nielsen (111 caps, 25 goals) and center forward Meret Pedersen (115 caps, 53 goals).
Whereas the Danish have a mix of older and younger players, New Zealand _ ranked 23rd _ has a half-dozen teenagers, including two 16-year-olds, and only one player with previous World Cup experience. Striker Wendy Henderson, 36, played on the team in 1991, the last time New Zealand qualified for the tournament.
"We've got a lot that we want to prove on the world stage. Sometimes it's good to have people thinking you're the underdog because you've got nothing to lose," Jackman said.
The hosts certainly have a lot to prove too. They have been criticized for flat play, with China women's soccer director Yang Yimin saying after a recent 6-0 downing of Vietnam: "The game was a little boring ... and the team's form wasn't very good. There's still a few more days before the World Cup. They need to make some adjustments and hope the team can bring their best form."
Striker Han Duan may be paired with 19-year-old star Ma Xiaoxu, who returns to the Chinese team after a four-month stint at Swedish club Umea, where she and Marta were teammates. The Chinese media have come up with a shorthand name for the pair, putting together their family names: "Hanma," the Chinese word for Humvee.
Li, the captain, brushed off recent published comments by former China star Sun Wen, who said the World Cup squad is lacking a playmaker who can take control of the midfield and create threats on goal.
"I think right now we play as a team," she said. "Mainly we need the team to play together as a whole, to pull together to defeat our opponents. Everyone on the field has their own role."


Updated : 2021-06-19 01:20 GMT+08:00