Chinese striker Sun Wen rates as one of the all-time greats of the women’s game, and was duly named FIFA Player of the Century jointly with USA legend Michelle Akers.
The China PR icon made her senior international debut at the age of just 17 and went on to appear at four FIFA Women’s World Cup tournaments, coming away with the adidas Golden Ball as best player of the 1999 edition in USA, where she scored an impressive seven goals.
FIFA.com spoke to the 39-year-old about China PR’s showing at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup 2012 in Azerbaijan, the distinctively Asian approach to the game, and some surprise factors at the finals.
How would you rate the performance of China PR at this FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup?
Unfortunately I couldn’t attend any of China’s matches in person, as I was based in Lankaran. But luckily there’s the internet these days, so I watched a bit on the internet and on TV. They played quite well. I know several of the players, as we use the same training facility in Shanghai. They’re quite good technically and in their understanding of the game. They played very well in the first two games, and I wasn’t surprised about that, because it’s what I was expecting. But I was surprised by the third game. I really don’t know what happened. However, this occurs a lot when the players are still so young, as they don’t have enough experience to deal with the high pressure of needing a result from the final group match.
Is it possible China never properly recovered from conceding a last-minute goal against Germany?
Maybe. But I don’t really share that opinion. I don’t think it was about the end of the game against Germany, I think it was about the third game. They needed at least a draw, and they couldn’t handle this kind of pressure.
How would you rate Japan’s performance? The Little Nadeshiko were regarded as favourites by many people prior to the finals.
Japan were excellent. I was so impressed. I went to Japan for the U-20 World Cup and I took my senior team to Japan for ten days. I met a lot of Japan’s women’s youth players, and they’re very good, in terms of their technique, understanding of the game, reactions and agility. Even though Japan are out, they’re still my favourite team.
Do you think that women’s football in Asia has a distinctive style? If so, how would you describe it?
I think there are two different styles of play. One is the Japanese style, and then there’s the style favoured by the other Asian teams. The Japanese players are small and slender. They pay more attention to technique. They’ve learned a lot from the outside, especially Europe. The approach is drummed into them from a very early age. If you watch the U-20 or the U-17, or even the local youth clubs, you can see their training philosophy is very similar. Japanese football has a very distinctive character.
What about the other Asian nations?
China PR, Korea DPR and Korea Republic are very similar in the way they play football. They play to their technical and physical strengths. Australia are physically stronger and the players are bigger, but they’re not as lithe and quick, so they play a more direct game. They’re more like the Americans.
Which team surprised you the most?
France. I watched them against Nigeria. The first half was the best half I’ve seen at this tournament so far. The French are very comfortable on the ball, and some of them are very good at using it too. They’re well organised both in defence and attack, and what I really like is that they have some creative players. However, I saw that they’re not consistent for 90 minutes. The first half was good, but they lost their way a bit in the second. Their endurance isn’t enough for 90 minutes. There were a lot of ups and downs in their game, they’re not stable yet.