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Pressure on China to Deliver
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With the Beijing Olympics less than a year away, the pressure is on China to perform.

It has had to deal with heavy doses of criticism from former players who say the team won't be going far in the tournament. Once one of the world's best sides, China has slid to a No. 11 ranking and is sorely lacking a playmaker.

"There's definitely pressure but we just hope to turn that pressure into motivation," midfielder Qu Feifei said yesterday.

Games in Group D begin tomorrow in Wuhan with Brazil playing New Zealand in the early game of a doubleheader and China taking on Denmark in the late match.

The group is wide open, with the top two reaching the quarterfinals. Defending champion Germany is favored in Group A, the No. 1-ranked Americans in Group B and Norway in C.

"With such a big tournament, no matter where it is, the public will pay a lot of attention to it. This year's World Cup, next year's Olympics will both be like this," defender Zhang Ying told reporters.

The women's World Cup is like an unofficial test event for the Beijing Games, which former International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch has said would be "the best in Olympic history."

China heads into the World Cup reeling from four straight losses at the Algarve Cup earlier this year, including a 1-4 defeat to tiny Iceland. Since then, the team has hired its first foreign coach Marika Domanski-Lyfors, who led Sweden to the finals of the 2003 World Cup.

She took over on April 27 and has produced decent results in a short time, steering China to eight wins, four losses and one draw in 13 matches.

But several former players have unloaded heaps of criticism on the squad. Striker Sun Wen said in a published commentary that the World Cup team is lacking a playmaker who can take control of the midfield and create threats on goal.

Former goalkeeper Gao Hong said she didn't expect China to go far in the tournament. The standard is the '99 team, which finished second against the United States.

"China is no longer a top-class team. Physically they are not as strong as Germany and skillfully they are no match for Brazil. They are becoming a team with no characteristics," she told Xinhua News Agency.

But Qu, a veteran of the 2003 World Cup, brushed off the pessimism and said the key is for her teammates to relax and play normally.

"It's not a big deal. After all, we're not ranked as one of the top teams," she said. "But I hope that after this World Cup we will get our recognition."

(Shanghai Daily via Agencies September 11, 2007)

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