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Strong performance a reason for hope
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Sun's former teammate Liu Ailin echoed Sun's comments on her own blog, saying her younger compatriots were playing with more confidence.

"We lost many matches before and that made players fearful and hesitant on the pitch," Liu said.

"But in this tournament they showed courage to control the ball, penetrate the defense and push forward. Confidence and courage are very important when playing against stronger teams."

The downward spiral

Since the golden years of the 1990s, China's women's team has been in a downward spiral, dropping to 14th in the latest FIFA rankings, its lowest ranking ever.

Meanwhile, Asian neighbors DPRK and Japan have leapfrogged the former Asian No 1 and are now ranked No 6 and 10, respectively.

Since conceding the Asian Cup title to DPRK in 2001, China's "Steel Roses" have underperformed in continental competitions. They fell to the Koreans again in 2003 before recapturing the Asian Cup title in 2006 with a penalty shootout victory over host Australia in the final.

Three months ago, China finished third behind Japan and DPRK in the EAFF Championship followed by three consecutive losses in the Algarve Cup.

During his two months in charge, Shang has molded the dispirited side back into a competitive team.

The core of the team is experienced - captain Li Jie shores up the defense, Bi Yan takes care of the midfield and Han Duan spearheads the attack. Some young talents have also been injected into the team.

Standing out among these up-and-comers is 23-year-old striker Xu Yuan, who scored the only goal in China's opening game against host Vietnam, and found the net again in her team's subsequent demolition of Thailand.

Besides Xu, a pair of teenagers also broke onto the team, with Gu Yasha and Lou Jiahui both supporting the attack from midfield. Lou came close to scoring her first international goal against Vietnam, while Gu also impressed in the match against Thailand.

"Now, I have more confidence to achieve the goal in the Beijing Olympic Games," Shang said. China has been drawn alongside Canada, Argentina, and Sweden in the Olympics.

FIFA.com contributed to the story

(China Daily June 10, 2008)

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