Versatile Ma itching for global debut

If versatility counts for anything, then Ma Jun stood out for her multitasking performances during last month's Four-Nation Women's Tournament in Shenzhen, China PR. The Chinese player, plying her trade with Daejeon Sportstoto of Korea Republic, was played in a number of positions in her two games.

Deployed as the central forward against Korea Republic, Ma was switched to shore up the midfield after the opponents came from two goals down to draw level. She went on to play as a makeshift central defender in the closing stages, a role which she would continue against Canada.

China PR may have been edged out against both rivals, but Ma, who excelled in each role she played, believes her side have every reason to open brightly in June’s FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™ where they once more meet the hosts in the curtain-raiser.

“We entered the tournament less-prepared so we were not in our top form,” the 25-year-old told, looking ahead to her debut FIFA Women’s World Cup, “but we showcased our abilities by taking a two-goal lead against Korea Republic. We also went ahead against Canada, only to lose out 2-1. And in all three games we led in all statistical terms but the outcomes. We should have a decent chance (against Canada) in June.”

While utility players are often resigned to bit part roles, Ma has made a significant impact for both club and county in more than one position. Unlike those sent on in temporary makeshift roles, Ma started her playing career as a central defender, before being converted to a striker. Meanwhile, she has made a name for herself as either a playmaker or a holding midfielder for her vision and dribbling skills.

"I think I am capable of all these roles," Ma, who set up Tang Jiali to double the lead against the Koreans, said proudly, "but it is up to the coaches as for which role I should play, based on our tactical needs. I am ready to take every task as it comes."

Despite her ability in more than one area of the pitch, it is the attacking job in which Ma has left her mark. She was heralded as a striking prodigy when she scored seven goals from four qualifying matches for the 2009 Chinese National Games with Jiangsu, performances which prompted her first national call-up that year. She went on to win the national competition four years later, being on target six times, including the match and tournament winner against Shanghai in the final.

"I began playing football as a defender but I always wanted to play the striking role," Ma explained, "as a kid I used to play football together with boys so I began loving this game. I am a fan of Ronaldo and Davor Suker for their phenomenal goal-scoring abilities. They are both number nine and coincidentally, I wear the same number jersey.

“I am open, optimistic and that is perhaps why I like going forward and scoring goals. Because I am also agile and good at possession, I am often asked (by my coaches) to control the midfield."

Zhang influence vital While a series of coaches have contributed in Ma's development, she feels particularly indebted to Zhang Jun, her mentor in the Jiangsu youth team who transformed her from an unpolished diamond to one of the country's most shining stars.

"During the four years he coached me, I was in a difficult period," she said, "I was then a teenager and proved disobedient, sometimes rebellious. But coach Zhang provided me with guidance both on and off the pitch. Particularly, he had his full faith in me. Under him, I made good progress in dribbling, finishing and heading."

Having established her stardom status on domestic front, Ma moved to Korea Republic last year joining Suwon Facilities Management Corporation, with whom she made an immediate impact in her debut season. Despite being sidelined due to an injury for several months, she scored four goals and provided five assists from her limited appearances. All the more impressive was her performance as the top goalscorer in the Korean FA Cup, during which she was on target eight times as her former side finished runners-up.

“Last season I was not so fit so I will try to make amends this year,” Ma summed up, expressing her hopes to a promising year with both the FIFA Women’s World Cup and her second K-League season looming large, “The new season kicks off in March and I will work hard with my new club Daejeon Sportstoto. I should do whatever I can to maintain my good form into the World Cup."