Pres­sure has lifted off of China

The team has reached its goal of mak­ing the quar­ter­fi­nals of the Women’s World Cup.

Los Angeles Times - - BASEBALL - By Kevin Bax­ter kevin. bax­ter@ latimes. com

OT­TAWA — China was a pow­er­house through the first six Women’s World Cups, reach­ing the quar­ter­fi­nals each time and nearly win­ning the ti­tle in 1999, when it lost to the U. S. on penalty kicks.

But af­ter fail­ing to qual­ify for the last tour­na­ment, as well as for the 2012 Olympic Games, China cleaned house, bring­ing in a new coach in the youth­ful Hao Wei and a ros­ter full of new play­ers.

Judg­ing from the early re­sults, that re­build­ing has been wildly suc­cess­ful — not only is China back in the World Cup quar­ter­fi­nals, but with an av­er­age age of 23.4 years, it’s the youngest team to make the elite eight as well.

“Over the past two to three years, we have wit­nessed tremen­dous progress,” as­sis­tant coach Wei Wei Chang said through an in­ter­preter. “These young play­ers are so en­er­getic, so en­ter­pris­ing they are be­com­ing a more ma­ture and so­phis­ti­cated squad. And full of energy.

“I be­lieve they can reach even higher goals in the fu­ture.”

For now, how­ever, any- thing be­yond Fri­day’s game with the U. S. will be gravy. China’s goal com­ing to Canada was reach­ing the quar­terf in­als and it has al­ready achieved that.

In the minds of many of Hao’s play­ers, that gives China a huge ad­van­tage.

“The U. S. team faces big­ger pres­sure than us,” said Wang Shan­shan, who scored the only goal in China’s 1- 0 win over Cameroon in the round of 16. “We have al­ready ob­tained our ini­tial ob­jec­tive. We just need to go as far as we can. “No more pres­sure.” Midfielder Guixin Ren agreed.

“We are in the top eight,” she said. “We have had a huge bur­den lifted off our shoul­ders.”

Don’t ex­pect that to af­fect China’s game plan against the U. S., how­ever. Hao’s team has been the most con­ser­va­tive in the tour­na­ment, fre­quently drop­ping six play­ers be­hind the ball in a well- or­ga­nized de­fense that has al­lowed just two scores from the run of play.

And on the other end of the field, goals are al­most ac­ci­den­tal. Con­sider that Wang, who has two of China’s four scores here, is a striker on her club team. On the na­tional team, how­ever, she’s listed as a de­fender.

Asked which po­si­tion she pre­ferred, Wang smiled and said for­ward. But on Hao’s team the plan is to stop goals, not score them.

“De­fense,” the coach said, “is our top pri­or­ity.”

In fact, Hao dropped a hint Thurs­day that China has been pre­par­ing for penalty kicks should they be needed to de­ter­mine a win­ner against the U. S. — which is ex­actly what hap­pened the last time the U. S. and China met in a World Cup.

Fa­mously, the Amer­i­cans won that time, and aveng­ing that de­ci­sion has be­come a pre­oc­cu­pa­tion of the Chi­nese media. But de­fender Wu Haiyan, who was just 6 years old when that 1999 game was played, dis­missed that.

“I’ve watched re­plays,” she said. “It was an ex­cit­ing and his­toric match. And hope­fully we can cre­ate history” Fri­day. Her coach agreed. “What’s past is past,” Hao said. “It doesn’t make any dif­fer­ence. I don’t think it is vengeance or any­thing like that.

“It is just a match.”

Jason Franson As­so­ci­ated Press

WANG SHAN­SHAN of China kicks the ball as Cameroon’s Jean­nette Yango de­fends dur­ing a match.

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