Injuries stun Steel Roses

With the start of the Women's Olympic Football Tournament still two days away, hosts China are already in danger of being consumed by increasing injury concerns and a crisis of confidence. First, on 20 July, midfield dynamo Qu Feifei was ruled out of playing any part in the finals after breaking her leg in the team's final friendly with fellow finalists New Zealand.

Now, with just two days to go before the Chinese open against the Swedes in Tianjin, coach Shang Ruihua will have to need to shuffle his pack again once more as young star Ma Xiaoxu has pulled out of the Games with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, which could see her ruled out of action for months.

Both players were expected to play a major role as the one-time powerhouse Steel Roses attempt to repair their fading reputation in the women's game, but Ma, the 2006 Asian women's player of the year, will be a hammer blow. She picked up the injury in a goalless friendly on 30 July with the USA, who will miss their own star striker Abby Wambach in the Far East after she broke her leg in a recent warm-up with Brazil.

A tremendous disappointment
Coach Shang was understandably devastated by the loss of his 20-year-old Dalian Shide striker on the eve of what would have been her first Olympic finals. "She had been playing so well in recent games," the coach lamented to "It is a tremendous disappointment for us to be without her for the tournament."

Ma's replacement came as no surprise with like-minded young attacker Liu Sa called in immediately to fill the void. Just 21, Liu has already established herself as a potential star for the national team, figuring prominently in the team's AFC Asian Cup runners-up run this June. She best demonstrated her predatory instincts in a 5-1 thrashing of Thailand in that tournament, where she opened the scoring and created another goal.

"Liu Sa is a cool-headed striker with a sharp nose for scoring goals," said Shang, who is likely to use the trusted strike duo of Han Duan and Xu Yuan in the starting 11. "She will provide the team with more options in attack."