- China PR dramatically pipped Korea Republic for an Olympic place
- Wang Shuang was the extra-time hero
- The 26-year-old discusses their qualification and Tokyo targets
The scene of a weeping Wang Shuang, hugging team-mates after 120 minutes in Suzhou yesterday, told its own story. It had been a year since China PR were due to face Korea Republic in a winner-takes-all showdown for a Women's Olympic Football Tournament Tokyo 2020 place. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the two teams didn't square off until recently.
Jia Xiuquan’s Steel Roses battled to a 2-1 away win in the first leg in Korea Republic, with Wang scoring the winner, but the Taegeuk Ladies emerged a different team in the return match, going in 2-0 up at the break. With little over 20 minutes remaining, however, Wang's free-kick found the head of the towering Yang Man to level the aggregate score, before her clinical finish won it for China in extra time.
"Now we are in the Olympics,” Wang told FIFA.com. “It was down to the team's collective efforts. If you ask me to single out a player of the match, I would say every one of us played a key role and each of us did what we could in helping the team through.
"We chased every ball in attack and got stuck in defensively. The entire team strove throughout the two legs to live up to the expectations. Thanks should go to my team-mates and the coaching staff, as well as the fans for their consistent support."
China began their Olympic qualifying campaign in February 2020, which coincided with the outbreak of COVID-19. Hailing from Wuhan, Wang missed out on the group competition in Australia due to her city's lockdown.
She didn't, however, sit at home doing nothing. Wang, by contrast, embarked on a self-made training plan, with videos of her indoor training going viral online.
With things quickly put under control in China, Wang received her call-up to the national team training camp last May. Having longed for chances to play for so long, Wang worked hard upon her return and quickly regained her fitness and form. With the play-off fixtures finally confirmed, Wang and Co stepped up their efforts in training.
"We went through a hard, 130-day training camp,” Wang explained. “In each day's training session we covered over 10,000 metres. We were more than ready for the play-off and when we went out there, we were able to get the better of them."
China's Olympic record
Wang was an integral part of the China squad that reached Rio 2016. She excelled during qualifying, notably grabbing the equaliser in a 1-1 draw with Korea DPR through an injury-time spot-kick.
The Steel Roses went on to down hosts Japan and Korea Republic to book their passage to the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament. Wang went on to impress on her Olympic debut, starting in all of China's four outings as they reached the quarter-finals, where they lost 1-0 to eventual champions Germany.
From there, Wang continued to make progress with both club and country, twice winning the domestic league with Dalian and helping China to win silver at the Asian Games 2018. That year saw her make a high-profile move to Paris Saint-Germain and earn the AFC Women's Player of the Year award.
"To be honest, I have matured a lot – especially mentally," the 26-year-old said. "After playing at the last Olympics and the past two Women's World Cups, I have become psychologically stronger.
"We hope to make a new breakthrough in Tokyo under the guidance of coach Jia. Our team will spare nothing to achieve a good result and repay our fans for their support."