Chinese women's soccer team takes on new look at four nations tourney

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Players of China celebrate a goal during the Four Nation Women's Tournament 2011 match against Sweden in Yongchuan District of southwest China's Chongqing Municipality, Jan. 23, 2011. China won 2-1. (Xinhua/Yang Lei)

 Players of China celebrate a goal during the Four Nation Women's Tournament 2011 match against Sweden in Yongchuan District of southwest China's Chongqing Municipality, Jan. 23, 2011. China won 2-1. (Xinhua/Yang Lei)


The Chinese soccer fans saw the dawn of hope of their women's team as the hosts took on a new look at the four-nation tournament.

China, standing the 11th in the FIFA ranking, came from behind to beat world No. 4 Sweden 2-1 here on Sunday. And though the hosts lost to world No. 9 Canada 3-2 on Friday, their performance did not disappoint the home crowd.

The Chinese team was bolstered by loud, chanting fans, who beat drums during the entire match and roared every time China got near the opponent's net.

"It is a very meaningful victory," said Li Xiaopeng, coach of the Chinese team. "To me, it is the first real win since I have taken charge of the team. We beat a world top ten team today, and every player did a good job."

Compared with the Asian Games last November, the women's soccer team showed obvious progress, especially in their attacks. They were in a fluent rhythm during the match, and the cooperation of Xu Yuan and young striker You Jia went quite well, and the tactics in the midfield also improved a lot.

The most important thing is the team now has a more positive mental outlook than in the Asian Games.

Sweden opened the scoring in the 15th minute as Johanna Almgran cut in and made a fine pass to Josefine Oqvist, the latter scored by a sharp-angled shot.

China made an equalizer in the 32nd minute thanks to Swede Lina Nilsson's own goal as she made an error when trying to clear Gu Yasha's free kick.

The hosts gradually found the pace in the second half by launching more dangerous attacks. Their effort got paid in the 61st minute when You enlarged the lead with a powerful shot from Qu Shanshan's free kick.

"We made some improvement," said Li, who took the charge of the team in last August after the "steel roses" failed to qualify for the World Cup in Germany for the first time and former coach Shang Ruihua resigned. "I want to give more chances to the young players, and I will do some adjustment in the squad."

Although Li made several changes, the Chinese team, once the Olympic silver medallists and the World Cup runners-up, still missed out on a podium finish for the first time in the Asian Games, which made Li's job seemed especially tough.

But this time in Chongqing, it seemed that Li's work finally got paid.

The 35-year-old coach, who concentrated more on the improving processes than results, didn't hesitate to use young players. The goalkeeper Zhang Yue, only 20, is always a substitute for the first-choice Zhang Yanru. But she has got more chances after the Asian Games. Much of the credit for the victory went to Zhang as she produced several world class save in the match.

Among the Chinese team, three are under the age of 20, and the oldest player is only 26. The young players have big potentials.

Former Chinese men's national team player Li Jinyu is also a big help for the women's team. He joined the team as the assistant coach in January and especially took charge of the training of the strikers. At the four nations, the 24-year-old striker You Jia's performance was quite eye-catching and Li Xiaopeng owed the progress to Li Jinyu.

"Li Jinyu's arrival is no doubt a big help to us," said the head coach. "Our strikers made a lot of progress after trained by Li."

As China failed to qualify for the World Cup in June, the biggest challenge for them in the year is to clinch a berth in the 2012 Olympics. With only two slots allocated to Asia for the tournament, it will be no easy.

"I need more time to make improvement," said Li. "But I am confident that my players have potentials. The four nations will be a good experience for us."

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