China PR head into their second FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup seeking to prove themselves, having failed to progress beyond the group phase on their debut two years ago in Azerbaijan. The world's most populous nation, however, boasts a proud record in women’s football. The Chinese finished runners-up at both the Women's Olympic Football Tournament Atlanta 1996 and the FIFA Women's World Cup USA 1999™. Their junior side, meanwhile, proved equally successful with consecutive runner-up showings at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup at Thailand 2004 and Russia 2006.
The U-17 side are, needless to say, keen on emulating those past glories. Luckily for them, a Chinese legend is at the team’s helm. Gao Hong, who excelled between the posts during the Steel Roses' impressive campaigns at Atlanta 1996 and USA 1999, was appointed head coach in the build-up to Asian qualifying for Costa Rica 2014. Under the former national team and New York Power custodian, China as hosts made light work of the group phase with defeats of Bahrain and Australia. Despite losing to Korea DPR 3-1 in the semi-finals, the home side rallied to draw 2-2 with Thailand thanks to a dramatic injury-time leveller, before winning a tense penalty shoot-out win to book progression.
Unlike the previous defensive squad at Azerbaijan 2012, Gao Hong's charges are attack-minded, most notably displayed by their 17 unanswered goals fired past Bahrain. They kept up their attacking momentum against former world champions Korea DPR, carving out several glorious chances only to fail to convert. "Our performances and successful qualification provides us with a massive morale-booster," Gao Hong told FIFA.com. "(At) the World Cup next year, we aim to at least reach the second round.”