Something of an unknown quantity going into the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Azerbaijan 2012, China PR quickly made their intentions clear by thumping Uruguay in their opening match. Tipped to progress alongside Germany from Group D after drawing 1-1 with them in their second game, they then came up short against the pacey Ghanaians yesterday, a place in the quarter-finals just eluding their grasp.
Though the disbelieving Chinese found elimination hard to take, coach Zhang Chonglai chose to take a positive view, lauding his young players for their efforts in Azerbaijan and predicting a bright future for them.
“We’ve got some excellent players in the side and they’ve shown here that they have an awful lot of potential and can go on and have great careers,” said Zhang Chonglai. “Lu Yueyun, Miao Siwen and Tang Jiali are extremely good. They’ve got great technique and a lot of ability. I’m sure they’ll go far and be big stars in the future.”
The Steel Roses, who were making their debut appearance in the competition, underlined that promise in sweeping to a 4-0 defeat of the Uruguayans in their first match, a result that suggested they were every bit as powerful as their Asian neighbours, who have dominated women’s youth football in recent years.
The Chinese impressed again when they took on group favourites Germany and would have made it two wins out of two had they not conceded a last-gasp equaliser. China PR remained top of the section, however, and needed only a point from Sunday’s vital match against Ghana to book a place in the last eight, an objective that looked well within their reach.
Sadly for the Asians, they were unable to cope with Ghana’s combative midfield and speedy counter-attacks, spearheaded by the ever-dangerous Jane Ayieyam, who scored both goals in the Africans’ 2-0 win, a result that sent the Chinese tumbling out of the competition.
“Ghana’s first goal came after a mistake by our defenders,” lamented Zhang. “We suffered a problem that afflicts all Chinese teams. We were in a very comfortable situation in the group and yet we weren’t able to push on and get past the first round.”
Despite failing in their bid to announce themselves as the new powerhouse of Asian football, the Chinese are nevertheless entitled to look back on Azerbaijan 2012 with some satisfaction. And as their skipper Jiang Tingting pointed out, there is plenty more to come from this generation: “Chinese football is still very much in its infancy.”