China coach stays optimistic
© Foto-net

In the aftermath of Brazil's 5-0 defeat of Group D outsiders New Zealand, few would have predicted that host nation China PR would suffer a similar fate. As it turned out, the Steel Roses fared only marginally better, shipping four unanswered goals against Jorge Barcellos' star-studded side and bruising their own prospects of a place in the last eight.

Nevertheless, China certainly put up a sterner fight than the Kiwis, and would live to regret wasting two golden first-half opportunities. Despite Marika Domanski-Lyfors' animated presence on the touchline, constantly urging her players to even greater efforts, the free-scoring Seleção's dominance increased and Marta and Co put the match beyond reach.

Afterwards the Swedish coach, who guided her home nation to a semi-final victory over Brazil at the FIFA Women's World Cup USA 2003, was in relaxed and reflective mood as she talked to FIFA.com. She was quick to point out that times have changed in women's football.

Brazil stronger than ever
"The Swedish squad I used to coach and the China squad I'm now in charge of are two completely different sides," said Domanski-Lyfors. "Also, Brazil now are vastly different to the Brazil which played in the last World Cup. In fact, I'd say this Brazil side is even better than the one that went to USA 2003."

The China coach also lamented her team's lack of composure in front of goal. "We had chances to score against Brazil but we weren't able to take them. At the end of the day, our opponents took their chances and that's why they won." The 4-0 reverse was China's heaviest loss at a FIFA Women's World Cup, though Domanski-Lyfors believes keeper Han Wenxia should not be made a scapegoat. "Han Wenxia made a couple of errors, but then so did some of the other players during the match. Mistakes come with the territory when you're a goalkeeper."

While Brazil's free-flowing, technical brand of football and highly skilled individuals have won them plenty of admirers, stamina and lung power are not attributes typically associated with the Verdeamarela. Coach Domanski-Lyfors steadfastly disagrees. "You only have to look at (Saturday's) match. For a start, the Brazilian players were extremely fit and could hold their own against any other team in the world. Technically they were outstanding - they moved the ball around quickly and were also strong in the tackle. Admittedly we also made a few errors, which led to us conceding goals."

Not just Marta
Ahead of China's final pre-match training session, striker Ma Xiaoxu had revealed that they had no plans to stifle Marta's influence by assigning her a second marker. Not only did the inspirational forward subsequently score twice, her all-round performance earned her the Player of the Match award. In the aftermath of the game, Brazil supremo Barcellos underlined the Steel Roses' failure to control his star player as pivotal in their defeat.

"Marta isn't the only threat in the Brazil team, all of their players have the potential to hurt the opposition," countered Domanski-Lyfors. "We adopted a zonal marking system with four in defence, but poor positional play and individual mistakes cost us the match in the second half." While Brazil had Marta, the FIFA Women's World Player of the Year, China could call on Ma Xiaoxu, the AFC Women's Player of the Year. "Marta is in a class of her own, an outstanding player," Domanski-Lyfors said. "I hope that in the future China can also produce a player of her talent."

The Swedish tactician also had words of encouragement for her own rising star: "As for Ma Xiaoxu, I think she'll get even better in the future. I hope that in the coming matches she can show everyone just how much ability she has." In fact, Domanski-Lyfors is adamant that the Steel Roses' confidence has not been affected and that they'll be back to their best when they face the bottom team in their final group game on Thursday. "We'll be giving our all in the next match against New Zealand. We have to fight for the three points and add to our goal tally to ensure we qualify smoothly."