China women's team resumes Olympic bid with a training camp
Captain Wu reflects on February’s challenging opening qualifiers
Wu maintains Steel Roses trademark character can help them qualify for Tokyo
Life is gradually returning to some sort of normality in China PR thanks to the country’s enormous efforts in fighting COVID-19 over the past months. Notably, this means a return to work for China’s women's national team who began a four-week training camp at the Suzhou Taihu Football Centre, Suzhou on 2 April.
"The aim of this camp is to help the players restore fitness and strength," Steel Roses captain Wu Haiyan told FIFA.com. "We are taking some warm-up exercise as well as attacking and defence training."
Health and safety, of course, remain a top priority with strict protective measures in place. "Except for training on the field, we always wear face-masks," said the 27-year-old defender. "Each of us has a separate hotel room and when eating in the dining hall, everyone has a separate table to maintain distance."
Social distancing measures were taken across the country in the past months but the players were far from idle as Wu revealed. “Coach Jia [Xiu Quan] asked us to train at home on a daily basis. He had a plan made for everyone. But there are no training facilities at home so we had to make the best of what we have.
“For me, I used everything I had on hand for training. I would use a loaded bag or jar for weightlifting. Besides, I went jogging when there were few people outside.”
The camp kick-starts China's preparation for the decisive Women's Olympic Football Tournament playoff against Korea Republic, which was most recently scheduled for June. But with the International Olympic Committee announcing that the Olympic Games in Tokyo will be held in 2021, the two-legged playoff is set to take place at a later date.
"It is hard to tell if this [postponement] is an advantage or disadvantage for us," said Wu. "As players we want to play the matches as early as possible because we can't wait to seal our qualification for the Olympic Games. But we will take the difficulty as it comes."
Indeed, China’s Olympic bid has already seen plenty of turbulence this year with COVID-19 posing one challenge after another. China had expected to host February's third qualifying round which was originally planned to take place in Wuhan. But with the venue twice relocated - firstly to Nanjing and then to Sydney, the team hurriedly packed up for a trip to Brisbane, where they were asked to quarantine in a hotel.
"It was a hard time," she reflected. "We couldn't train as usual using the field or gym. We managed to do some training in the hotel and, a day ahead of the first-match kick-off, we had an hour on the training pitch.
"Before the opening game, coach Jia told us 'you see, all the difficulties are coming at us. What shall we do?' We all knew what he meant. We had been through all this together and we wanted to prove what we could do."
China demonstrated trademark Steel Roses’ spirit with some of their best showings despite entering the campaign under-prepared. They opened with a 6-1 rout of Thailand before trouncing Chinese Taipei 5-0. And they took a 1-0 lead with just four minutes left against Australia, only to see the hosts equalise with a stoppage-time effort to share the points.
"Solidarity and team-work is always the core of our spirit,” Wu said. “The difficulties bring us closer as a team. We face up to the challenges together and we work hard as a unit.”
Now facing Korea Republic in a winner-takes-all playoff, Wu believes that they will be well prepared. “They [Korea Republic] are a good team and they have a few players who are good at attacking. But we have plenty of experience against them and we will spare no efforts to prepare for it.”