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Wang shaking off the lockdown rust

By SHI FUTIAN | China Daily | Updated: 2020-05-19 09:00
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Wang Shuang winds up a shot during a Team China training session last week in Suzhou, Jiangsu province. The star playmaker admits trying to regain full fitness after over two months in self-quarantine in Wuhan has not been easy. XINHUA

Team China ace admits to feeling the pace after lengthy Wuhan quarantine

After the euphoria of lockdown lifting, Team China star Wang Shuang admits returning to the training pitch has taken the wind out of her sails somewhat as she fights to regain full fitness.

Wang was confined to her Wuhan home for 77 days during the COVID-19 pandemic, and even though she managed to perform some basic training during quarantine, the aches and pains she is feeling these days have reminded her there's no substitute for practicing on the pitch.

Getting back to peak condition is now the goal for the former Paris Saint-Germain playmaker at the national team's May 12-28 training camp in Suzhou, Jiangsu province.

"This is the first time in my career after all these years that I've had such a hiatus. For 77 days, which is about two and a half months, I've had no games to play," Wang told media in Suzhou.

"I felt like I was retired during the time without soccer. My physical condition has inevitably been affected. Now, as I have returned to the national team, the first priority is to restore my physical condition."

Head coach Jia Xiuquan hasn't tried to sugarcoat the situation and is anxious for Wang to get up to speed.

"If 10 is the full mark, I would rate four for Wang's current game," he told media following a Thursday training session.

"But, they (Wang and two other teammates from Wuhan) should have no difficulties adapting to the training plans physically, as they all have solid foundations."

While Wang was self-quarantined in Wuhan, Team China went through a trying time attempting to book a ticket to the now-postponed Tokyo Olympics amid constant pandemic-related disruptions.

The Steel Roses came through a tough third-round Olympic qualification tournament in Australia in February after all Group B matches had to be relocated from Wuhan. The change of location cost the squad both home advantage and a number of core players, including Wang.

However, Jia's squad refused to wilt in the face of such difficulties to book a playoff berth against South Korea. The two-legged tie was originally scheduled for March, but the coronavirus crisis forced the Asian Football Confederation to twice rearrange the matches-initially until April and then once again until June.

With both countries continuing to recover from the pandemic, the Chinese Football Association is reportedly pushing to reschedule the playoff until next February.

Wang, for one, would be grateful for the breathing space.

"We could play against the South Korean squad next February, so the extra time would be a chance for me," she said. "I want to fit back in the team as quickly as possible and get myself in peak condition, both mentally and physically."

Collectively, too, coach Jia reckons the extra preparation time would be useful as his squad continues to adjust to the demands of an increasingly physical women's game.

"We wanted to finish the playoffs after the third round of the qualification as soon as possible, but the pandemic delayed the schedule," said Jia.

"Now Wang Shuang, Lyu Yueyun, Yao Wei and Li Mengwen have all returned, which has made the team complete. The next step is to get all the players as fit as they were in Australia.

"The confidence of the players is growing… They are the new generation of Chinese women's soccer player. The women's game is now more physical with a quicker pace and higher intensity. It's not like years ago. I hope they can catch up with this trend and show their potential on the world stage."

But with soccer still largely on hold domestically and internationally, any progress Jia's group make will be confined to the training pitch for now.

"Ensuring that the women's national team qualifies for the Olympics is a major task of the Chinese Football Association," CFA president Chen Xuyuan said earlier this month. "The preparation method will mainly be conducting training camps. We will try our best to book a ticket."

Chinese squads returned from the 1996 Olympics and the 1999 World Cup with silver medals, but the nation is no longer a superpower of the game like it once was. Jia, though, reckons the squad is on the right path as it attempts to muscle in on the elite again.

"I don't know what your impression is of the women's squad, but now we're confident playing against a world champion team. We dare to confront them on the pitch and create as many opportunities as possible," Jia said.

"We are improving in terms of passing and physical battles… since the 2019 World Cup, we have struggled for goals, but we have also made some encouraging improvements."

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