Following on from previous all-star games in San Jose (1999) and Paris (2004), a FIFA World XI takes to the field on Saturday in a gala prelude to the draw for the FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007. The venue on this occasion is Wuhan, the largest city in central China.
In the build-up to the match, the key personalities all agreed that the crowd is in for some spectacular entertainment. Australia stopper Cheryl Salisbury , the first of the players to arrive for the game, was in ebullient mood. "More than anything else, I'm expecting a lot of entertainment, although as a defender, I'm obviously not overly keen on seeing too many goals," the player told a pre-match news conference. "I think it'll be a very tough match for us, but it will definitely be well worth watching."
The reporters and photographers crammed into the Wuhan stadium Media Centre heard World XI coach Tina Theune-Meyer confidently predict an exciting encounter.
"I'd like to thank China and FIFA for the opportunity of being present at this event. Putting on a match like this is a fantastic idea." Theune-Meyer nevertheless gently rued the severely limited opportunity for pre-match training. "We only had six players at training on the first day, because the rest simply weren't there yet. We had a squad of 16 by the second day, but we're still missing two of our players," the 2003 FIFA Women's World Cup-winning coach explained.
The former Germany supremo voiced respect for the Chinese. "They're a very young team, but I believe they have the potential to finish as one in the top four at the World Cup. They simply need to mature, but they have ability and fitness in abundance. They're definitely capable of achieving more than they have done recently."
The FIFA Women's World Stars will be captained by a different player in each half, US icon Kristine Lilly , the last of the squad to arrive, and Norway keeper Bente Nordby . The latter was visibly moved when she heard about the responsibility that had been bestowed upon here. "This is a very great honour and I'm delighted to be named captain. I've had a few goes at the job for Norway."
Domanski-Lyfors takes a back seat
In a minor surprise, the Chinese will not be led by new national coach Marika Domanski-Lyfors , but by former interim boss Wang Haiming. Wang expressed hopes that the encounter would be a turning point for the team, symbolised by a debut appearance in a stylish new kit. "I believe new coach Domanski-Lyfors will be a breath of fresh air for the team with her European methods and expertise."
Wang stressed the crucial importance of the match locally. "It's a great opportunity for China to learn from the best in the world. And it's also a chance to promote women's football and attract more young women to the game."
The mood in the Chinese camp on the eve of the match was upbeat. "I'm determined to get on the scoresheet, just to christen our wonderful new shirts," striker Han Duan declared, a smile playing across her lips. "We're confident things will look up for us from now on."
Defender and captain Li Jie also had a grin on her face. "The best thing would be if we could score twice. Han Duan will score the first and I'll get the second."
The FIFA Women's World Stars are certain to face determined and resolute opponents, with the Chinese keen to erase the memory of a string of recent defeats and having spent the last four weeks preparing for the prestigious clash. Organisers are predicting a crowd in the region of 30,000.