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Women's Soccer: New Coach Calls for Confidence
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Marika Domanski-Lyfors is yet to prove how much she will improve China's women's soccer team technically and physically, but she has taken the first step to improving them mentally.

"Yes, my goal is to take the team to the last four," said Domanski-Lyfors, who guided Sweden to a second place finish at USA 2003. "I know that we have a lot of hard work to do in preparation for the tournament, but I believe we can do our utmost to achieve our aim."

"Although we were drawn in a very tough group, I sill have confidence of achieving the goal."

China are seeds in Group D of September's 2007 Women's World Cup, and they must get past Brazil, Denmark and New Zealand to keep expectant home fans happy.

Domanski-Lyfors' appointment came in the wake of China's disappointing Algarve Cup campaign, where the "Steel Roses" suffered four successive defeats including a 4-1 rout by Iceland. While the morale in the Chinese camp has possibly reached its lowest point for several years, there is still a lot of pressure on the hosts to perform well at this year's event.

But Domanski-Lyfors has showed a confident attitude and believes China has a great chance at the World Cup.

"I watched their second-half against Sweden during the Algarve Cup. Although they lost 1-0, the players had some really good performances.

"And they also performed very well in the match against the World XI. It will give the team more confidence.

"I think China has very good players with skills. They are capable of beating any team in the world as long as they play their game. But what we need right now is confidence."

Despite the fact that she has only been given six months before the World Cup kicks off, Domanski-Lyfors said that she has no doubts about the team's potential for success.

"They are a young team that might be lacking experience, but they are also a team of boundless potential," she continued. "I am confident that I will take the team to a level where they can compete against the world's best, not only at the Women's World Cup, but also next year's Olympic Games.

"I am not afraid of the challenge otherwise I would have stayed at home rather than come to China. There are many people in the world who enjoy working with pressure and I'm one of them."

In the mid to late 1990s, China's women's team were regarded as among the best in the world after they won silver at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 and finished as runners-up at USA 1999. However, the team has been struggling since exiting the FIFA Women's World Cup at the quarterfinal stage in 2003 and has slipped from fourth to 11th place in the FIFA rankings.

The national team has been under increasing criticism and pressure ever since and sometimes tends to lose control against lower-ranked teams.

"I hope to help them show energy, show the fun in playing football.

"Also they have to be more patient. They can be playing in the semis in the World Cup."

China Football Association (CFA), the sport's governing body, has come under fire for their "inhumane" rules for the players: They are barred from leaving their hotel and their mobile phones are confiscated during training camps.

Domanski-Lyfors said she will work with officials and deal with the problem properly.

"I have had very good dealings with them. I also know Chinese football and I've followed them through all the championships before. I think I will like Chinese football and I will make all the players enjoy the sport."

Known as a gentle and kind person, Domanski-Lyfors said players will see another side of her during matches.

"I am kind but I have a temper during games.

"I also know my way to work for the girls. I am quite a stable person in that way."

But Domanski-Lyfors added "to be powerful during matches" does not mean scolding the players.

"I think everybody will do their best. If they do their best, you cannot say anything. They have to do their best and we have to do our best. That is the big deal."

Hard work

But Domanski-Lyfors is quite clear there is more hard work to be done in the coming months.

"The first thing is to get to know them and team staff. That is the first thing.

"I like everyone. It is important. I like all the veteran and young players. But I need time to know them better."

She said the most difficult thing right now is the language.

"Communication in Chinese will be the problem. I have to use body language and a translator. I will try to learn some Chinese. Anyway it will be very nice to work with the team. I am excited to be starting at the next camp."

Domanski-Lyfors led Sweden to the 2003 World Cup final, which they lost to Germany. She stepped down after nine years as Sweden's coach in 2005, but continued working for the Swedish Football Association and coaches the under-21 side.

Domanski-Lyfors believes her coaching experience will give the team extra motivation.

"I have been watching China since the inaugural Women's World Cup in 1991 when I was one of Sweden's coaching staff," she said. "From 1996 to 2005, I was the head coach of Sweden and after quitting the senior team job, I coached Sweden U-20 and U-23 women's teams, so I have a lot of international experience."

"It is a good challenge. It is a new experience for me. I love the hot games. I will give them new experiences."

China's former striker Sun Wen believes it is better that the team's weaknesses have been exposed while there is still time to address them. "A team's progress is not only about results but also performance," the FIFA ambassador said. "We still have almost six months to prepare the team, so I've never lost faith."

In Sun's opinion, the key to rebuilding China's lost credibility lies in regaining the sense of pride and responsibility that underpinned the side narrowly edged on penalties in the final of USA 1999.

"A player must play with pride when she plays with the national team and it should be a mission to do her utmost to represent the national team well," she said. "The team (in 1999) also played a lot of difficult games, some of which we lost, but we never collapsed. That pride and responsibility cannot be defeated."

(China Daily April 26, 2007)

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