Former Sweden coach Marika Domanski-Lyfors left China on Wednesday morning with a signed contract in her suitcase, after she agreed to become the first-ever foreign coach of China's women's team. On Tuesday, Domanski accepted the position in Wuhan , one of the five host venues for September's FIFA Women's World Cup.
In the mid to late 1990s, China's women's team were regarded as being one of the best in the world after they won silver at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 , before finishing as runners-up at USA 1999 . However, the team has been struggling since exiting the FIFA Women's World Cup at the quarter-final stage in 2003 and has slipped from fourth to 11th place in the FIFA Women's World Ranking . Taking all this into account, the newly appointed coach raised quite a few eyebrows when she vowed to take China into the semi-finals of this year's FIFA Women's World Cup.
"Yes, my goal is to take the team to the last four," said Domanski-Lyfors , who guided Sweden to a runners'-up finish at USA 2003. "I know that we have a lot hard work to do in preparation for the tournament, but I believe we can do our utmost to achieve our aim."
Domanski-Lyfors' appointment came in the wake of China's disappointing Algarve Cup campaign , where the Steel Roses suffered four successive defeats, including a 4-1 defeat at the hands of Iceland. While the morale in the Chinese camp has possibly reached its lowest point for several years, there is still a lot of pressure on the hosts do perform well at this year's event.
However, narrowing the gulf between low morale and high expectations does not daunt the new coach, whose pedigree and experience made her an excellent choice for the China FA.
"I have been watching China since the inaugural Women's World Cup in 1991 when I was one of Sweden's coaching staff," she told local reporters. "From 1996 to 2005, I was the head coach of Sweden and after quitting the senior team job, I coached Sweden U-20 and U-23 women's teams, so I have a lot of international experience."
Despite the fact that she has only been given 176 days to prepare the team before the FIFA Women's World Cup before, Domanski-Lyfors believes that she has no doubts about the team's capabilities for success.
"They are a young team that might be lacking experience, but they are also a team of boundless potential," she continued. "I am confident that I will take the team to a level where they can compete against the world's best, not only at the Women's World Cup, but also next year's Olympic Games.
"I am not afraid of the challenge otherwise I would have stayed at home rather than come to China. There are many people in the world who are enjoying working with pressure and I'm one of them."
Her appointment was lauded by China's 1991 FIFA World Cup coach Shang Ruihua , who guided China's U-20 side to second place at Russia 2006 . "For a long period our domestic coaches focused too much on defence, which made our team look hesitant and weak," he told FIFA.com, "With a foreign coach at the helm, I hope it will breathe a fresh attacking air into the team."
In Shang's opinion, the biggest advantage that Domanski-Lyfors will have is that she can work without the pressure that was placed on her predecessors shoulders. "A home grown coach usually has the biggest pressure from the media and fans - and there is added expectancy because we are playing at home this time. As a foreign coach, Domanski doesn't need to think about this and she can devote all of her time and energies into preparing the team."
Domanski will return to Wuhan to join her team on Tuesday 17 April. Her first test will be the game against an All-Star team one week later, a day ahead of the Final Draw on Sunday 22 April.