Despite a downward spiral at senior level, China remains a formidable power in women's youth football on the continent and beyond. The country's U-20 side, affectionately named The Steel Rosebuds, have impressed on both continental and world stages over the past four years. They may have missed out on the inaugural FIFA U-20 (then U-19) Women's World Cup in Canada in 2002, but they reached the global showpiece two years later in Thailand where they stormed to the final only to lose out to Germany 2-0. Two years on, they matched the feat at Russia 2006.
With Asia's qualifying tournament staged in the Chinese city of Chongqing, the hosts, under coach Gao Rongming, received unprecedented support. The Rosebuds were further enhanced with a good batch of senior national team players lining up in the squad. While everything looked to be going according the plan, the Chinese struggled, only booking a place in the semi-finals as the second-placed team behind group winners Korea Republic. A 4-1 defeat at the hands of Japan then condemned the hosts to a third-place play-off against the Koreans again. In the decisive re-match, China only had their blushes saved by a second half goal from defender Ruan Xiaoqing that secured a 1-0 win and a place in Chile.
Despite their proud record at this level, the pressure is on China. Coach Zhang Guilai was handed the national team reins in May, having proved himself by guiding the unfancied Tianjin to the domestic title. His ambitions, however, were dealt a blow by the unexpected loss of forward Ma Xiaoxu and her offensive partner Ma Jun, who have both been ruled out with injuries. The team's scoring duties thus fall on emerging star Lou Jiahui and Gu Yasha. "We will focus more on the players' improvement rather than results," coach Zheng told FIFA.com.
Xu Yuan (2004), Ma Xiaoxu (2006)
Lou Jiahui (midfield), Gu Yasha (forward), Ruan Xiaoqing (defence)
Five games played, with three wins, one draw and one defeat; ten goals scored, five conceded.
The numbers game
2 - the number of times China have won silver at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cups.