It was a tense group stage encounter in the French capital but China ran out 1-0 victors against South Africa in the Women’s World Cup.
The opening exchanges proved one of few chances, but Li Ying would soon turn the tide in China’s favour with a delectable finish just on the stroke of half-time, stroking the ball into the back of the net after an excellently-timed Zhang Rui delivery.
South Africa offered a few glimmers of attacking threat after the interval but China held out for a much-needed win to keep their World Cup aspirations well and truly alive.
Defeat for the African nation also guarantees Germany a place in the knockout stages, but what else did we learn from this nervy Group B collision?
1. China’s excellent service
When deploying two up front, as Jia Xiuquan did at the Parc des Princes this evening, it is imperative that the service is not only aplenty, but also high in quality, and that exactly what Li Ying and Wang Shanshan were provided with.
The striking duo were supplied with a number of well-timed deliveries throughout the match by Gu Yasha on the left, who was a consistent threat from the flank, and Paris Saint-Germain’s Wang Shuang on the right.
But, the decisive delivery came from Zhang Rui, with the 30-year-old whipping in a tantalising cross to tee up Li Ying, whose stretched leg guided the ball into the back of the net and left Kaylin Swart rooted to the spot.
Moments later Wang Shuang provided an inch-perfect cross from a corner kick to set up Wang Shanshan, but her header rattled off the crossbar and came agonisingly close to crossing the line.
2. Steel Rose rotation
Li Ying came up with the goods to break the deadlock in the French capital, and with that, became China’s 23rd different goalscorer at the Women’s World Cup.
That places the Asian nation fifth in the all-time charts for nations with the highest number of different goalscorers, with Germany (34), the United States (32), Norway (29) and Sweden (25) ahead of them in the pecking order.
That goal for the Shandong Ladies striker also puts her on 28 for the red and yellow colours of her country, and it was a clinical piece of fox-in-the-box finishing from the 26-year-old, who stuck out an exquisite leg to direct Zhang Rui’s cross into the South African goal.
The goal will further have come as a relief to head coach Xiuquan, as the Steel Roses had only netted two goals in the half first of their previous eight World Cup appearances.
3. SA speedster handled by familiar faces
With only Wang Shuang plying her trade outside of her homeland for the Chinese national team, the rest of Xiuquan’s squad would therefore have been very familiar and well acquainted with the ferocious attacking exploits of Banyana Banyana’s Thembi Kgatlana, who plays for Beijing Phoenix.
The 23-year-old forward was Desiree Ellis’ biggest threat, and she certainly demonstrated her prowess in the final third on a number of occasions, with her blistering speed allowing her to advance into ample space and dangerous areas of the pitch.
But with such an attacking presence in South Africa’s attack, the Steel Roses defence stood up to the task well, aptly embodying their ‘Steel’ moniker and doing the name proud with a resolute defensive display.
Indeed prior to this evening, Kgatlana had scored six goals across her last six international appearances at a major tournament (AFCON and the Women’s World Cup), while she also scored against Spain in South Africa’s opening Group B match – China will, therefore, be glad to have kept her at bay.
4. ‘Lady Messi’ vindicates starting berth
There was much controversy when China’s Wang Shuang, nicknamed ‘Lady Messi’ was dropped for the opening match against Germany, but Xiuquan opted to start the PSG forward and the move paid dividends.
This was not Wang Shuang’s finest performance, but she was a constant livewire on the wing and continuously tried to make things happen with zigzag runs, jinks and shimmies, not to mention a number of accurately-time crosses.
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Incredibly, the 24-year-old is currently the only player on the Steel Rose roster who does not play their competitive club football on Chinese soil, instead exhibiting her craft in Paris – the city of tonight’s victory.
And so, ff China have any hope of beating Spain at the Stade Oceane on Monday in the concluding fixture of Group B, then Xiuquan will need his best players on the pitch, and Wang Shuang is arguably the best.
5. China maintain African nation record
China have now won each of their last four Women’s World Cup encounters against African nations, keeping a clean sheet in each match, and scoring an accumulated total of 10 goals.
Defeat for Banyana Banyana ensures they have now lost their previous four international matches, conceding 14 goals in that time, and all but ending their hopes of progressing through Group B.
For China, their record in group stage matches at the World Cup stands at a commendable 13 wins, four draws and three defeats, with all their losses coming in the last seven matches, though they have now bounced back from defeat to Germany in fine fashion.