The famous 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final™ is often best remembered for a world record attendance and Brandi Chastain’s iconic celebration as USA won a dramatic penalty shoot-out. But in China PR it is the heartbreak of narrow failure on that sunny afternoon in Pasadena that still endures.
That run to the 1999 final remains an impressive high watermark for Chinese football. It has had a lasting effect on the game in the globe’s largest nation, and current goalkeeper Wang Fei says it remains a personal inspiration to this day.
“I watched the '99 game with my family,” Wang told FIFA.com. “It was a big moment for Chinese football. The Chinese men hadn’t played in a World Cup then, and so it helped make Chinese women’s football grow in popularity. My main memory is the goalkeeper saving the penalty, every Chinese remembers that.”
Wang was an impressionable nine-year-old at the time of USA 1999. “When I was a child I was thinking about playing for China in the World Cup. I didn’t tell my mum and dad, I only thought about it myself. I kept it in here,” says Wang, drawing her hand towards the heart. “I played midfield, I wasn’t a goalkeeper then. But the school coach saw I had ability in goal and I also grew and became tall so I went in goal, which also meant I didn’t have to run,” she adds with a cheerful laugh.
Wang now plays her club football at German powerhouse Turbine Potsdam becoming the first Chinese player to compete in the Frauen Bundesliga when she debuted earlier this year. Highly-regarded Turbine coach Bernd Schroder was immediately impressed. “We’ve finally found our new Nadine Angerer,” he said at the time. Clearly Wang’s school coach back in Dalian had an eye for talent.
Opportunity on the world stage China face a potentially gruelling test against Cameroon on Saturday, and the possibility of a match-up against Germany remains a possibility in the latter stages of the competition. It is a thought that both bemuses and excites Wang. “It would be special to play against Germany,” she said. “Many of my team-mates are in their team. Obviously I want to win if we play against them, but at the same time I wouldn’t want to see them sad.”
Wang was one of China’s most impressive performers in their run to second place in Group A behind host nation Canada. Tall and agile, Wang displays impressive confidence in the air. She was beaten just once in the opening two games. Even then, it took an inch-perfect penalty from Canada captain Christine Sinclair to get the better of Wang. However, the 25-year-old was not so happy about the 2-2 draw against New Zealand, hampered, as she was, by a shoulder injury suffered in the previous outing against the Netherlands. “Personally I was not happy to concede two goals,” Wang said. “I played with pain but I’m strong and will not think about pain. For the World Cup I can forget it, and make the most of this experience.”
Wang names Spain’s Iker Casillas and Germany’s Manuel Neuer as among her inspirations. “I want to learn to play with my feet ,” she says. “I also like Hope Solo because she is an excellent goalkeeper, and also a beautiful girl.”
After China failed to qualify for the 2011 Women’s World Cup, Canada 2015 has offered up a chance for China to gain some redemption. And Wang believes the Steel Roses are on the up, even comparing them as approaching the level of the Class of ’99. “I think we are getting closer to them,” she said. “We play with the feet more now. And we are gaining extra power within us. We really want to win. We are enjoying the tournament and I really want to enjoy it more.”