China's women's soccer players are distraught at the prospect their coach will be dumped after failing to meet the benchmark set in her contract.
Swedish born coach Marika Domanski-Lyfors has graciously accepted responsibility for China's exit from the FIFA Women's World Cup quarterfinals and now awaits the discretion of Chinese Football Association (CFA) officials.
But the vocal support of both players and chief officials are strong signs that the dignified mentor will be retained -- and steer the team to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
"We should cheer for the players and the coach, and give our thanks to Domanski-Lyfors," Xie Yalong, vice-president of CFA, said in an endorsement of the brand of attacking soccer played by China.
China's 1-0 quarterfinal loss to Norway on Sunday, a consequence of a number of fluffed goal chances and a crucial defensive blunder from rookie Wang Kun, left players, coaches and spectators weeping at the Wuhan Sports Center Stadium.
No one blames Wang -- neither teammates nor usually critical media -- but she said it would take some time to recover from the shattering moment.
"I am concerned if the coach will leave the job because of the mistake," she lamented.
"I really cannot forgive myself for it -- it almost ruined all my performances in the past matches."
The World Cup debutant won acclaim during China's group matches, but her stunning blunder in the penalty area saw her fall from grace.
"But for the mistake, I am very much satisfied with myself. I've paid for the inexperience and it might be a life-long regret."
The youngster also pleaded for Domanski-Lyfors to be allowed to move on with the team.
"She was kind and true-hearted to us," Wang said.
"She made us feel we are returning to be a strong team. We all like her so much. I hope she will stay and take us to the Olympics."
Striker Han Duan failed to find the net in all four World cup matches but insisted Domanski-Lyfors could lift China to a higher level.
"I cried after the match. She came to me and comforted me," Han said. "We should be proud of ourselves.
"We were making progress and we are getting more aware of our shortcomings, which are so much significant for the preparation of Beijing Olympics.
"Domanski brought us many positive things, making us play as a team and encouraging us to keep upbeat for the future. We are very happy and we hope she could stay."
Han's embattled partner Ma Xiaoxu, the golden shoe winner of last year's World U-20 World Championships who finished her first senior event scoreless, said it was the saddest moment during her career when players and coaches embraced in the locker room after the Norway defeat.
"When we were told she may leave the team, everyone could not help crying. I tried to be strong but did not hold it," she said.
"I was not at my best in the world cup and left so many disappointments. But I am going to leave everything behind and summon up again for the future competitions."
'I want to stay'
Failing to achieve the minimum target of semifinals according to her contract with CFA, Domanski-Lyfors knows her fate is now out of her hands.
"We did not do it as what we were talking about. That's why I have to consider if I will continue and I will discuss with CFA."
But asked if she would like to stay, Domanksi-Lyfors was adamant she would.
"Personally I would like to stay," she said.
"But I have to make a decision after discussions with CFA. China has the world's best fans and the best football atmosphere. I love them and I love China.
"Right now I will continue to watch the World Cup and then take a vacation."
If she is retained, Domanski-Lyfors will have 10 months to tune up for the Olympics, where fans and official are expecting nothing less than a medal finish.
"If I stay, I will talk something deeper about the team with CFA. We have to do more work on players' ability in the penalty area both in offense and defense," the embattled coach said.
The last match in which China peppered the world No 4 Norwegian's goal with 21 unsuccessful shots convinced Domanski-Lyfors the team was capable of big things.
"The time is not much before the Olympics, but China has a lot of potential," she said.
"We have showed in the World Cup that we can play with the world's best teams.
"Whoever taking the team, China will be very much competitive in Beijing. They have good chances to win a medal."
China got back on track with a string of victories after Domanski-Lyfors took over in late March.
Women's soccer in China suffered a slump after the 1999 World Cup, in which the "Steel Roses", spearheaded by star striker Sun Wen and playmaker Liu Anling, grabbed silver, the country's best result on the big stage.
Most Chinese recall the team's dazzling 5-0 win against then-reigning champion Norway in the semifinal and the regrettable penalty shootout loss in the final to host the United States.
Following the retirement of several stars, China failed to make a smooth transition to the next generation because of a dearth of talent and frequent coaching reshuffles.
Chinese fans were stunned by the team's 8-0 collapse to Germany at the Athens Olympics and 4-1 loss to minnow Iceland at this year's Algarve Cup.
(China Daily September 26, 2007)