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Wang fully focused on Olympic mission

By SHI FUTIAN | China Daily | Updated: 2021-04-20 09:31
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Wang Shuang, pictured during last week's Olympic qualification playoff against South Korea, has denied rumors she has a strained relationship with Team China head coach Jia Xiuquan. [Photo/Xinhua]

Steel Roses ace blocking out the noise in pursuit of Games glory

Wang Shuang admits she could one day return to play in a foreign league, but insists for now her focus is firmly on helping Team China excel at this summer's Olympics.

Last week Wang was again Team China's savior, netting two crucial goals as the Steel Roses booked their ticket to the Tokyo Games with a 4-3 aggregate playoff victory over South Korea.

The Wuhan native's heroics sparked an outpouring of support online from tens of millions of fans, many of whom urged her to return to Europe where she previously enjoyed success with Paris Saint-Germain.

"Of course I would like to go to a foreign league, but now my focus remains on the national squad and the Olympics. I will consider the next chapter of my career after this," Wang, who helped Wuhan Chedu Jiangda win its first domestic top-flight title in 2020, told People's Daily.

"I remember South Korea's Ji So-yun said that this was her best shot to reach an Olympics, but in the end they missed their chance. So I feel I'm really lucky. I can play in such a great team to fight for our nation in the World Cup and the Olympics. I'm living my soccer dreams."

Wang's brilliance in the playoff was all the more special considering she missed a major chunk of the qualification campaign when she was stuck in Wuhan during the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak last year.

Videos posted online of the 26-year-old training on her balcony during lockdown showed her dedication to China's cause, but after rejoining the squad last April she still found the going tough.

"If 10 is the full mark, I would give Wang's current game a four," Team China head coach Jia Xiuquan told media at the time.

True to the squad's "Steel Roses "nickname, Wang and her teammates made up for a lack of international matches during the pandemic by giving their all in the domestic league and national team training camps to prepare for the qualifier.

"During our training sessions last year, we didn't have any official matches to play, but the South Korean team had three players who were playing in Europe. They had a better feel for the game, so it was to be expected that the match would be tough," said Wang.

"The second match of the playoff in Suzhou was our first home game since the COVID-19 pandemic. There were so many passionate fans. There was very little to choose between the two teams, so the mentality of the players mattered more. It was about fighting spirit and whether we could reproduce that on the pitch."

Head coach Jia is confident his players will do themselves proud in Tokyo, although was reluctant to predict they could come close to restoring the team's former glories-runner-up finishes at the 1996 Olympics and the 1999 World Cup.

"The spirit of the Chinese women's soccer team is to be able to fight back in the most desperate situation and never give up at any time," said Jia after the victory.

"If I say our goal is Olympic gold, people would call us cocky. If I say our goal is to advance from the group stage, people would say we have no ambition.

"Now I can only say I will adopt the most realistic attitude to finish everything the best way we can. We are building a stronger Team China and we want to create more miracles."

Wang shot to global prominence in 2018 when she joined European giant PSG, going on to become the first Chinese to score in the Women's Champions League.

After a year in Europe, she cut short her contract to return to the Chinese Women's Super League with her hometown team Wuhan Chedu Jiangda, sparking speculation over the reasons behind the change of plan.

"There were no hard feelings for me about returning to the domestic league. The reason why I wanted to go to PSG was to experience the style and pace of European soccer, so I could better help Team China at the 2019 Women's World Cup in France and the Olympics," Wang told People's Daily.

"Some rumors said that I was forced to return. That's not the truth. Playing for our national team in the Olympics and the World Cup means more to me than a career in a foreign league.

"Someone said it was coach Jia who forced me back. That's nonsense. He's been clear that playing in a foreign league can benefit players and he always supports us.

"There are always voices questioning my personal relationship with coach Jia. I just want to say he's the one who has always pushed me forward to keep improving mentally and physically. I appreciate his efforts.

"But some keep saying the coach doesn't like me and holds me down in the team. Please stop hurting the team and the coach. He's kind of like a stern father to all of our players. We all know the efforts and sacrifices he makes for the team."

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