'Don't get conceited by victory, don't be disheartened by defeat' is a common Chinese expression. Few can keep the same aplomb while facing differing outcomes, however China PR women’s national team coach Hao Wei has proved that he can maintain his composure regardless of results.
The 37-year-old cut a calm figure throughout the recent AFC Women's Asian Cup during which China booked progression to the FIFA Women's World Cup Canada 2015™. He spoke cautiously after the Steel Roses sealed their return to the global showpiece and kept his cool despite an unlucky eleventh-hour defeat against Japan in the semi-finals. The former Shandong Luneng defender maintained his equilibrium after his side rounded off their memorable campaign with a spirited 2-1 defeat of Korea Republic in the third-place play-off.
"It showed that we have made some progress," Hao told FIFA.com after the concluding match in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. "It is another step forward in our rebuilding process. But in the long run, it was just a start of a long journey. “We can't sit on this feat and we should start working hard, focusing on preparation for next year's FIFA Women's World Cup."
Hao's appointment came last year in the wake of China's failure to qualify for both the 2011 Women's World Cup in Germany and the 2012 Women's Olympic Football Tournament. In a sense, both the coach and his team were under unprecedented pressure heading into the Asian qualifier. As a side who first won silver at Atlanta 1996 then finished runners-up at USA 1999, it would have been unthinkable had they been dealt another qualifying blow.
China opened brightly thrashing Thailand 7-0 with striking-ace Yang Li on target four times. After defeating Myanmar 3-1, they shared the spoils with Korea Republic in a goalless draw as they completed the qualifying mission in style.
"Our opponents of the opening two games were not that strong," Hao reflected on their group competition. "So the players were thrown into the deep end against Korea Republic in the closing group match. We remained undefeated during the group campaign but there is still plenty of room to improve for us in both tactical and technical terms."
Our aims are more than just progressing from the group phase.
The semi-final showdown against Japan was a match which Hao had openly targeted, with the Steel Roses seeking to end a seven-match losing streak against the world champions. After a goalless first half, Homare Sawa put the Japanese ahead with a header, but Li Dongna equalised with a spot-kick ten minutes from time to force extra time. China came close to breaking the deadlock on more than one occasion, but it was Japan that prevailed in dramatic fashion as Azusa Iwashimizu popped up to secure victory deep into injury time at the conclusion of extra time.
"Our players played gallantly," Hao said. "They showcased the confidence as well as fighting spirit. But obviously they were found lacking in experience. We are still a young side. We have our work cut out if we are to reach the level where we can compete against the world's best."
A promising side
While the entire team excelled during the campaign, a series of fresh talents caught the eye. Young forward Yang Li netted six goals, including the match-winner against Korea Republic as she finished as the tournament’s joint top-scorer along Korea Republic's Park Eun Sun. Partnering her upfront was the skilful Li Ying, while pacy Xu Yanlu proved a menace when surging forward down the flanks. The team’s defence, marshalled by captain Wu Haiyan, proved solid conceding just three goals in five matches.
Hao said: “The average age of our players is under 23 and we are one of the youngest sides of the tournament. We have laid the foundation for the future national team. Many of them are still very young going into next year’s Women’s World Cup as well as the 2016 Olympic Games so they can represent the country for many years.”
“Our next focus switches to the World Cup, of course,” Hao concluded. “We should work hard in training as our aims are more than just progressing from the group phase. But even more important is that we can continue to make progress.”