Performances the priority at East Asian championship despite fans' high hopes
Team China star Wang Shuang warms up for a training session in Qingdao, Shandong province, on July 12. The women's team on Sunday flew to Japan where it will do battle in the EAFF E-1 Football Championship. XINHUA
After lifting the Asian Cup in February, hopes are high among fans that the Chinese women's team can claim more glory at the forthcoming EAFF E-1 Football Championship. Head coach Shui Qingxia, however, is endeavoring to keep expectations in check, urging the Steel Roses to focus on their performances more than their results.
"What we have achieved at the Asian Cup showed Team China still has what it takes to defeat strong rivals. We need to first win over ourselves to have good results. We need to adjust to the right mentality," said Shui before leaving for the championship, which will be held in Japan from Tuesday to July 27.
"Winning and losing are both normal in soccer. Throughout the process, what actually matters is that during the matches we show our understanding of soccer and what we've practiced in our training sessions. So I told them to not think too much about the results. Even if we lose to some teams, we will have a chance to win the next time. Our priority this time is to level up our strength."
Team China arrived in Japan on Sunday, leaving it with only two days to warm up. The Steel Roses will kick off their campaign against Chinese Taipei on Wednesday, before facing South Korea on Saturday and host Japan next Tuesday.
Beginning in mid-May, Shui oversaw a two-month-long training camp in Qingdao, Shandong province, and Haikou, Hainan province. The EAFF E-1 Football Championship, which features East Asian teams, will be Team China's first major international tournament after it won the Asian Cup in February.
"After winning the Asian Cup, the fans' expectations are much higher. So we need to be more focused on the pitch," Shui added.
"There is pressure on us for sure, and I hope we can keep winning. But there are problems and challenges. This is our job, and we need to try our best to adjust and avoid problems. Whatever happens, I think our fans will keep supporting us and understand us."
Shui's initial 37-player training camp roster was cut to 26 before departing for the tournament. The current squad includes stars such as former Paris Saint-Germain playmaker Wang Shuang, forward Tang Jiali, who has just completed a loan spell at Tottenham Hotspur, and captain Wu Haiyan.
"Among the original 37-person roster, there were many players who were born after 2003 and 2004. I hope to give young players more opportunities, as new blood is key to our future development," said Shui.
"And we also have some veterans. As long as they continue to show their quality, they will get their chance. I hope the younger players can push harder and grow as quickly as possible."
Shui admits the return of Wang and Wu from injuries is a major boost for China's chances.
"Wang Shuang's leg injury is now fine. Initially, she struggled with the more intense training sessions, but she's in good condition now－at about 70 percent," explained Shui.
"Wu Haiyan has been in the national team for many years, and she's also the captain of the team. She has great ability. She's back after injury, and is a very experienced player and our core defender. She's a great help to us."
Despite being many people's favorites for the title, the players themselves are braced for "fierce "competition in Japan.
"I have been playing abroad for a long time, so the priority for me is to have better cooperation with my teammates," said Tang.
"This time at the championship, we will face many old rivals. They will have studied us closely and we are expecting to face fierce defense. We need to play our own game and strive for the best possible results."
After the championship, Team China will head to the US for a monthlong stint of training and friendly matches against local teams, both men's and women's.
The squad for the US trip is expected to feature a number of players who are missing the East Asian championship due to their club commitments abroad, including Shen Mengyu of Scottish team Celtic.
"The training camp after the championship will be intense. That will be a great test of the players' physical and mental strength. Through the camp, we will further identify our weaknesses, especially in terms of our pace and fitness," Shui explained.
"And I hope to identify and learn more about the young talents. I don't want to miss a single one who has the potential to play for Team China."