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Thorny issues abound for Steel Roses

By SHI FUTIAN | China Daily | Updated: 2021-07-28 09:04
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Despite still looking like a world-class talent at the Olympics, playmaker Wang Shuang-who scored four goals against Zambia in Tokyo-could not save Team China from elimination. XINHUA

Dutch demolition condemns women's team to humiliating exit in Tokyo as inquest begins into squad's sharp decline

Team China's humiliating elimination from the Olympic women's soccer tournament on Tuesday proved the squad's reliance on its old-school hard-work ethic is nowhere near enough to cut it at the highest level anymore.

A shocking 8-2 thrashing at the hands of the Netherlands sent the 'Steel Roses' crashing out of Tokyo 2020, and underlined just how far Chinese women's soccer has fallen behind the game's elite nations.

Fans reacted to the team's capitulation with dismay online, with the hashtag "Feel sad for Wang Shuang "trending on social media, referring to China's star playmaker.

A powerhouse on the pitch not so long ago, China could only manage a point from its three group games, and conceded a whopping 17 goals. China lost its opener to Brazil 5-0, and then drew 4-4 with Zambia, before Tuesday's blowout loss to the Dutch.

Head coach Jia Xiuquan has come in for heavy criticism, and he admitted the performances have fallen well below his team's standards.

"We didn't meet our expectations or achieve our goals. It has nothing to do with the players, and I take full responsibility. We will review this experience. The players have given their all on the pitch," said Jia.

"They tried very hard and I just want to thank them. The mistakes we made were connected to the players' mentality. As the head coach, I'm responsible for every mistake that a player makes. I cannot pass the buck to anyone. But I still want the players to be brave in the future."

Xinhua reported that, before Tuesday's game, Jia held a team meeting during which the usually good-tempered 58-year-old didn't hold back.

"Come on, girls! This is the Olympics, once every four years, it's not easy for everyone. If you want to play in the Olympics again, it will take a huge effort to even earn a ticket through Asian qualification," Jia was quoted by Xinhua.

"Now we have qualified and we are on the stage. So how will you respond? You need to have a perfect performance. You need to have quicker passes and play in a more open way… The veterans and the new players can all make mistakes, so now you need to think how you can relieve the pressure and fight the best you can!"

Before arriving in Japan, Jia had already faced criticism for his squad selection. Several key players who helped Team China qualify for the Games were not included in the Olympic roster, such as Ma Jun and Lou Jiahui. He has also been blamed for the team's weak defense and tactics, which some fans have ridiculed as "outdated".

Some observers, however, believe that Jia alone should not shoulder the blame. They cite deficiencies in the development of the domestic women's game over the years as reasons why Team China is unable to live up to past glories, including runner-up finishes at the 1996 Olympics and 1999 World Cup.

Now, reaching a major final is almost unthinkable for the Steel Roses, who have dropped to 15th in the world rankings and will surely slip further after their Olympic flop.

"Many people are blaming the head coach for his choice of players and many other reasons. But we have to be fair. There is a very limited choice of players for Jia Xiuquan, so how can he produce a great result?" read a commentary by Sina Sports.

"Three months ago, the Steel Roses had a tough win against South Korea to earn a ticket to the Olympics. At that time the whole nation was cheering. And during the qualifiers, we saw signs of the old Steel Roses and their unbending will in the current generation of players.

"It's mixed feelings for everyone. On the one hand, the current crop still has the team's tradition. But on the other hand, 20 years ago we were discussing if the Steel Roses can win the Olympic gold medal. Right now, the national team is celebrated just for a successful qualification campaign."

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