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China struggles into quarter-finals, beating New Zealand 2-0
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FIFA Women's World Cup hosts China fought hard to beat underdogs New Zealand 2-0, roaring into the quarter-finals in Tianjin on Thursday night, following Group D leader Brazil who edged Denmark 1-0 simultaneously to earn nine points from three matches.

Denmark, who lost 3-2 to China but beat New Zealand 2-0, had to pack home, so did the Kiwis who lost all their three group matches without scoring a goal and conceding nine.

China have won all the seven encounters with New Zealand up to now.

In the breath-taking China-New Zealand game tonight, Chinese defender Li Jie broke the deadlock in the 57th minute with a brilliant backward slip header in the box.

Midfielder Xie Caixia sealed the crucial win for China on 79 minutes when she earned a clear run into the box, danced past the last defender and scored on a flash low shot.

Xie was named the Player of the Match.

Domanski-Lyfors said, "We were eager to win and we did it under a fair play. After a 0-0 first half, I asked my players to keep calm and reduce long passes."

"I asked them to make full use of the space in the wing and it worked well in the second half," said the Swede, who led Sweden to runners-up in 2003 World Cup and took over the Chinese team in March this year.

"When I was a player, I played against Norway many times. The China-Norway clash in the quarter-finals will be very tough, and we will do everything to win," she said.

She also noted that China had whitewashed Norway 5-0 in the 1999 World Cup semifinals.

"We are aiming the top four on home soil, and we are in top eight now, which has already been better than our FIFA ranking on 11th," she said.

New Zealand coach John Herdman said, "The high spirit helped the Chinese team win today."

"We have many young players aged between 16 and 18 and we don't have as many talented players as China," Herdman added.

The stalwart Chinese girls laid a siege on the Kiwis from the very beginning of their do-or-die match, making 22 shots (13 on target) against six (three on target) for the Kiwis, who also played in a tough manner.

China coach Marika Domanski-Lyfors fielded a 4-3-3 formation of the starters, which was rarely used before.

Veteran striker Zhang Ouying opened fire for China only one minute into the game. Zhang, 32, who had not been a starter in the previous two matches, also made a wonderful bicycle kick in the 74th minute, which was headed out by a Kiwis defender.

China, who collected the same three points as Denmark but stood third in the group for a four-goal difference with the Danes, planned to earn a big-margin win over the Kiwis but they squandered too many chances in the lopsided game.

In the 15th minute, Zhang earned a solo run but her shot in the box was blocked by goalkeeper Jenny Bindon. China's quick-pace striker Han Duan secured the ball, thrusting into the box again but her low shot to open goal went wide.

On 25 minutes, striker Ma Xiaoxu, China's new No. 10, secured a ball in the box, dribbling past two defenders, but her small-angle shot was tapped out by Bindon.

In the 54th minute, Chinese veteran midfielder Pan Lina's powerful header in the box was saved by Bindon.

Ma Xiaoxu, named the best player of Asia last year, blasted powerful volley in the 77th minute but the ball hit the crossbar.

Ma said after the match, "We have full confidence to beat Norway and advance to the top four."

Despite creating only a few scoring chances, New Zealand's defender Abby Erceg almost tied the score to 1-1 in the 62nd minute with a close-range tap, but the ball went high.

Substitute Zoe Thompson took use of a fatal error committed by Li Jie on 65 minutes to earn a solo run. But her tip-toe shot mysteriously went wide.

China will take on Group C leader Norway in the quarter-finals in Wuhan on Sept. 23.

(Xinhua News Agency September 21, 2007)

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