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Heroic Wang books China's Tokyo ticket

By SHI FUTIAN | China Daily | Updated: 2021-04-14 08:57
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China ties with South Korea 2-2 after extra time, into Tokyo Olympics by 4-3 on aggregate in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, April 13, 2021. [Photo/Xinhua]

The change of location cost the squad both home advantage and star player Wang, who spent months locked down in the city.

Wang, however, emerged from those tough times to lead her hometown team to the domestic league title-and now she has come up trumps for her country.

The 26-year-old was rumored to have fallen out with head coach Jia Xiuquan during a disappointing 2019 Women's World Cup campaign, however there was no questioning her dedication to China's cause on Tuesday as her sweetly struck winner and slightly fortunate opener saw off a plucky South Korean side.

In a disastrous opening 45 minutes for China, the visitor had stunned the host by taking a 2-0 lead into the halftime break.

However, a floated Wang freekick in the 68th minute deceived the Korean defense to sail into the net and force the extras, before the former Paris Saint-Germain playmaker netted with a sweetly struck angled shot in the 103rd minute to seal China's place at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

Speaking before kickoff, head coach Jia had correctly predicted a tough task ahead, despite his team's 2-1 first-leg advantage.

"Theoretically speaking, the second match should be much harder. I told my players they must forget the result of the first match. To win the second match, they'll have to exert a lot more effort. We need to ensure our players stay in peak condition," said Jia, who took over Team China in 2018.

Suzhou had given Team China a hero's welcome upon its arrival over the weekend-even staging a drone show ahead of the match. The fans' excitement was indicative of just how much they crave a return of the Steel Roses' glory days, when they were runner-up at both the 1996 Olympics and the 1999 World Cup.

The rapid global development of women's soccer in recent years, especially in European nations, has seen China's powers wane somewhat. At the 2019 Women's World Cup in France, for example, Jia's team was eliminated at the last-16 stage following a 2-0 defeat to Italy.

However, Tuesday's gutsy performance and Wang's individual brilliance bodes well for Tokyo.

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