Determined China unfazed by challenges
"Awarenessof humiliation is akin to courage" may be what Chinese thinker Confucius taught over two thousand years ago. The old saying, however, was demonstrated more recently in Asian qualifying for the 2012 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup last October by a plucky China PR side.
Seeking redemption having failed to qualify for the previous edition at Germany 2010,the Steel Rosebuds fought all the way through to the semi-finals to seal their return to the global showpiece in Japan this August.
Boosted by that success, the two-time runners-up, under coach Yin Tiesheng, enter their fourth appearance at the event determined to re-establish their place among the world's best.
"The qualification marks only the beginning of our rebuilding campaign," the 56-year-old told FIFA.com in a recent exclusive interview. "Our aim is to showcase our progress and reach the last eight at the World Cup."
Formidable opponents On paper, a quarter-final target is by no means a tall order for the Chinese, who stormed into the finals on back-to-back occasions at Thailand 2004 and Russia 2006.
But they subsequently underperformed on both the international stage and the Asian scene, crashing out of the group stage at Chile 2008 before missing out on Germany 2010 completely.
Although they brought an end to the downward spiral with a third-placed finish at last year's continental qualifying, coach Yin believes it may take longer than expected to fully restore their lost credibility.
"The qualifying success has seen a group of promising players come up through the ranks," the home-grown coach continued. "But the lack in international experiences and exposure may limit the players’ performance. They must work hard to improve their overall abilities if they are to compete against the world's best."
To be frank we are in the toughest group of all... but we still have a chance to spring a surprise.
Their group opponents are not easy, either. Awaiting them in their opener on 20 August are none other than defending champions Germany, while a formidable USA must be faced three days later. African giants Ghana are no pushovers too, of course, given their brilliant display in the qualifying campaign.
"Our group is indeed hard," Yin was at pains to point out. "To be frank we are in the toughest group of all. Germany and USA should be the favourites to qualify from the section but we still have a chance to spring a surprise. The progress by the team during the build-up so far adds to our confidence and with a proper game strategy it is possible for us to achieve our goal."
Tactical approach An ever-green on the domestic scene during the past two decades, Yin has earned a reputation as a master tactician. He made his name by taking an unfancied Shandong to the FA Cup title in 1995 and at international level, he guided China to the FIFA U-20 World Cup at Netherlands 2005.
Under his guidance, the Steel Rosebuds put in a series of brilliant displays in Asian qualifying, including holding Germany 2010 semi-finalists Korea Republic to a 1-1 draw before overpowering Australia 3-1 to secure their passage through.
But a 4-0 defeat by Korea DPR in the final qualifier betrayed their vulnerabilities against world powers and, at April’s American training camp, his outfit twice lost to hosts USA in friendlies - 4-1 and 3-0 - results which provided Yin with new food for thought.
"The physically stronger American and European sides usually forge a bigger threat for us. They are stronger when pushing forward and they know how to best capitalise on their physical edge," he added.
"To counter this, we must play well as a team, tightening the back-line and thwarting the opponents with positional play. If we successfully keep them at bay, we can upstage them."
And he was proved right with this counter-attack strategy by the team’s improved play against a visiting Korea DPR in a friendly in June. The hosts shocked the former world champions by taking a two-goal lead, only to concede three late goals to lose by the slightest of margins.
"In our next preparatory phase we will focus onimproving organisation and raising competition level," Yin concluded with an upbeat tone. "The team is going in the right direction and I hope the players can arrive in Japan with their best form."