While recruiting experienced foreign coaches is a long-established practice in men's football, examples have proved rare when it comes to the women's game. The former Sweden coach Marika Domanski-Lyfors therefore became something of a trailblazer when she accepted the challenge of becoming China women's team first-ever foreign coach on 27 March 2007.
If there were initial doubts concerning the wisdom of her appointment, they have been quickly dispelled by the sequence of results since the Swede took charge. The 47-year-old, who guided her home country to the final of USA 2003, has certainly been lauded by local fans and media for a record of four friendly victories and one draw in her fledgling stint at the helm of a new-look Steel Roses side. These positive results came as a timely confidence-booster for a team that had finished third from the bottom in March's Algarve Cup, and have only strengthened confidence in Domanski-Lyfors' credentials.
Nevertheless, the experienced coach is under no illusions about the scale of the challenge in bidding to realise her goal of guiding China to the last four at September's FIFA Women's World Cup, and she confided in FIFA.com that much work remains to be done.
FIFA.com: You have made a fine start to your new job, with
four victories and a draw since taking over. I imagine that you
could not have expected any more?
Marika Domanski-Lyfors: It has been a good start. We have been working very hard and I can that see everyone in the team is doing their best. The fact that we have remained undefeated in five friendlies shows, at least partially, that we are doing the right kind of job here.
How do you rate the current Chinese women's team? What
are their main strengths and weaknesses?
We have been working together for over a month and I like the team very much. They are a young team with a lot of potential to explore. The players are technically and physically good, but we still need to improve their fitness. The team must learn how to play in a highly competitive match because, as you know, the intensity and tempo they will face in World Cup matches will be extremely high.
Do the recent victories strengthen your belief that the
goal you set the team - qualifying for the last four at the FIFA
Women World Cup - is very much within your reach?
It is a timely boost for everyone of the team after losing a host of matches earlier this year. I am clear that, as hosts, the team are expected to do well in September - and to reach the last four is a good goal. But no Women's World Cup is going to be easy and we must work hard to achieve our goal.
You are the Chinese women's team's first-ever
foreign coach, and this is also the first time you have coached a
team outside Sweden. What are the biggest challenges facing you?
The biggest difficulty is communication. My native language is Swedish and I communicate with the players through an English interpreter. To solve this problem I and my assistant have been teaching the players the necessary Swedish football terms and I am also learning some Chinese. This way we can make sure that we can understand each other quite well, at least on the training pitch.
Next on your list of warms-up matches are Argentina, USA
and New Zealand. Do you think these matches will be sufficient to
develop the team's form and sharpness before the
Definitely, yes. Our rivals in these games are all qualified teams for the Women's World Cup and only by playing against such strong opposition can you reap the necessary international experience. The players can only improve through these high-intensity matches, and their fitness cannot help but be improved by facing this kind of opposition.
What are the areas in which the team urgently need to
We desperately need to enhance our attacking ability as well as consolidating the defence. The team have to improve their stamina to play against tough opposition in intense games and, generally speaking, I want them to be more consistent and stable.
How important is Ma Xiaoxu to the team? Does the fact that
will not return from her Swedish club Umea IK until August
undermine her importance?
There's no doubt that it will be a good experience for her to play with Umea IK, and the league matches will help her keep fit. When she comes back, we still have time to look at her and she will need to compete for her place in the team, just like everyone else.
Looking ahead to the FIFA Women's World Cup, who would
you consider to be favourites at the moment?
It is too early to predict about the winners but if I am required to do so, I would say China. My second favorite team would be Sweden (laughs)!