- *Wang Shuang dubbed ‘Lady Messi’ by Chinese media *
- *Shuang figured prominently as China sealed Olympic return in 2016 *
- *Scored the only goal as China ended a ten-year wait for victory over USA *
What would your reaction be if you are an avid Cristiano Ronaldo fan, but are likened to Lionel Messi? This was the scenario facing Wang Shuang - arguably China PR’s hottest prospect - who has been dubbed ‘Lady Messi’ by Chinese media and fans alike for her exceptional goalscoring talents. On the surface, it seems a tricky conundrum when asked to choose between two of the world's top stars.
The Dalian Quanjian forward, however, answered as deftly as she plays football. "Of course, I usually watch Real Madrid's games [being a fan of Ronaldo]," the 22-year-old told FIFA.com. "But Messi is such a highly gifted player. He is smart, fast, can dazzle spectators and beat rivals through his sublime skills. Messi is a great star few can match. So I think it [my nickname] is sort of an exaggeration."
There is, of course, a reason why Shuang has enjoyed such lofty comparisons. Despite her tender years, she has already racked up 61 international appearances, scoring 12 times. However, if there is one goal that most Chinese fans will remember, it is the one which saw China emerge unlikely winners in what was Abby Wambach's farewell two years ago. The result ended China's ten-year wait for victory against the Americans.
*A tale of two spot-kicks
*The strike that sank USA may is perhaps a perfect reflection of Shuang’s talents as a predator. But she preferred to single out a penalty against Korea DPR as the most memorable goal of her international career. It was the second fixture in last year's Asian qualifiers for the Women's Olympic Football Tournament.
The game went into injury time with China trailing 1-0. Just as the North Koreans looked destined for victory, Shuang was tripped in the area. She kept her cool to equalise from the penalty spot and earn the Steel Roses a precious point. From there, Shuang and Co. got the better of Japan and Korea Republic to seal Rio 2016 qualification with a match to spare.
"It was an important goal," Shuang reflected. "And it came just at the right time. The referee whistled the end of the game when I converted the penalty. I was so excited. I was still feeling full of energy after playing 90 minutes. And I could have grabbed the winning goal had there been a few more minutes."
Taking a spot-kick is a huge test for anyone. It can send you into raptures or leave you weeping throughout the night.
Shuang came close to emulating those heroics at Rio 2016 when China faced eventual champions Germany in the quarter-finals. A similar scenario arose to that which Shuang experienced five months earlier against Korea DPR – only this time with a different outcome.
With the match ticking towards fulltime and the Germans holding a 1-0 lead, Shuang earned her side a penalty. She didn't hesitate to step up to the spot, sending goalkeeper Almuth Schult the wrong way only to see the ball rebound back off the post.
"Taking a spot-kick is a huge test for anyone. It is really a make-or-break. It can send you into raptures or leave you weeping throughout the night. But after all, I have grown more matured with those contrasting experiences, and now I feel stronger."
*Goals for France 2019
*Shuang attributed her progress to French coach Bruno Bini, under whom the Steel Roses have emerged a new team. She said: "Since coach Bini took over in 2015, he has placed plenty of faith in me. I was given more chances and encouraged to showcase my best skills. This is the change he has brought to the team. He let us know that everyone has a chance as long as she makes consistent progress."
The next task awaiting the team is next April's AFC Women's Asian Cup. With the top-five advancing to the FIFA Women's World Cup™, a spot at France 2019 looks within China's grasp. Shuang has, however, fixed her sights on making more of an impact. "We reached the last eight at Canada 2015 upon our return to the World Cup. After another four years, we will aim to build on this and try to achieve a better result.”