Members of the Chinese women’s national football team play at a training session in Haikou, South China’s Hainan Province on January 13, 2023. Photo: Lin Xiaoyi/GT

As long as the elements cooperate, the consensus among the Chinese women’s national football team is that training shall take place every day without delay or failure. 

With the Spring Festival holidays approaching, even the weather patterns change dramatically, with sunny day and rainstorm switching randomly. The shouting and cheering of the players in training at the Chinese National Football (South) Training Base in Haikou, South China’s Hainan Province, rivaled those of explosive fireworks in nearby resorts.

In preparation for three major future international tournaments – the FIFA Women’s World Cup, the Hangzhou Asian Games and the Olympic qualifiers – 27 Chinese women’s football players have been gathered in Haikou since December 5, 2022 to start a new training session.

In January 15, the Chinese Football Association (CFA) held an important meeting, where the association proposed to strengthen the training of the men’s and women’s national teams and promote the Chinese women’s national football team to retain its glory as a top-class squad in the world.

Training is always a nerve-wracking experience and physically demanding as each player is expected to perform at peak physical fitness, be technically and tactically cognizant.  

Over the Spring Festival holidays in February 2022, the national team overcame many difficulties and regained the AFC Women’s Asian Cup title after 16 years. As the new cycle begins, the team aims even higher on the totem pole of accomplishments.

While off the court, these girls are relaxed. By showing their authentic selves on the field and in life, they tell the outside world that they deserve to be noticed, inspiring more people to fall in love with “The Beautiful Game.”

Big test year

“This year is a tight and exacting year, but we always need to have a goal and then work toward it,” Shui Qingxia, head coach of the Chinese women’s national football team, told the Global Times on Friday.

With the Asian Cup champions in mind, 2023 will be the “big test year” for the Chinese women’s national football team. In July and August, they will play in the FIFA Women’s World Cup to be held in Australia in the “group of death” against European Cup champion England and European rival Denmark. In September, they will be playing in the Hangzhou Asian Games as hosts, and in October, the team will participate in the Asian Preliminary Round 12 of the Olympic Games for the only two qualifying spots in Asia.

“Every step is important but challenging,” Shui said, pointing out that the national team has different goals at each stage in 2023. 

“For the World Cup, we definitely hope to get through the first group stage of qualifying matches, and then make it to the final eight. And we will strive for the best results in the Asian Games on our own home ground,” Shui said. 

“The competitions will be fiercer in the Olympic Games because there are fewer qualification places, but we will not give up easily,” she said.

Currently, the Chinese women’s national football team is ranked 15th in the world and 4th in Asia.

“We always have the right positioning for ourselves, and the team is improving step by step, and we are also actively learning from other strong teams in the world to narrow our technical, tactical, and physical gaps,” Shui noted.

In the face of the current trend of “strong confrontation” shown by the world’s strongest women football teams, the Chinese women’s national football team has increased the intensity of the physical training for the players. In the second phase of the winter training after the Spring Festival holidays, the team will travel to Spain for training, followed by international warm-up matches with a number of European teams.

“I expect our team to perform well in the FIFA Women’s World Cup.” Veteran player Lou Jiahui, 31, who is preparing for her third World Cup, is adamant about her New Year’s resolution.

“Whether or not we are in the ‘group of death,’ we are all actively mobilizing ourselves, looking forward to deploying the strength of the whole team to strive for better results, and at the same time, reflect the spirit we should now embody from the Chinese women’s national football team,” she said.

Members of the Chinese women's national football team celebrate during the awarding ceremony after winning the 2022 AFC Women's Asian Cup in Mumbai, India on February 6, 2022. Photo: VCG

Members of the Chinese women’s national football team celebrate during the awarding ceremony after winning the 2022 AFC Women’s Asian Cup in Mumbai, India on February 6, 2022. Photo: VCG

A happy family

It was surprising that Shui, who was under great pressure to prepare for the competitions, made a New Year’s wish that was not related to the major upcoming tournaments. She pondered for a moment and sincerely wished for good health and happiness for her friends, the players in the team and their families. 

The Chinese women’s national football team is also a happy family. Chen Qiaozhu, 23, a stalwart of the team, has made a New Year’s wish to stay with the national team under the guidance of Shui, and progress together with her teammates.

Although Chen had a “fierce battle” on her mind while running a 12,000-meter race, she was excited and cherished the experience after a long absence from the national team. 

Chen suffered a series of serious injuries on the football field, and unfortunately missed the 2019 Women’s World Cup and the Tokyo 2021 Olympics. But what she regretted was not that she did not have the opportunity to showcase her skills in the competitions, but that she could not make a contribution to the team and to the country.

“I keep telling myself to never give up. If the team needs me, I will step up,” Chen told the Global Times.

Since 1986, the Chinese women’s national football team has stumbled but kept moving forward in unity. The team has played in 15 Women’s Asian Cup, winning 9, more than twice as many as any other team. In 1999, China achieved its best ever runner-up finish in the iconic 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup final, where the Chinese team lost to the US by a single penalty, an era in which the team earned the prestigious title of “Steel Roses” that has been passed down from generation to generation.

The older generation of Chinese women’s football players represented by Shui has been a source of inspiration for the current national team’s members. 

“Their hard work and brilliant accomplishments have always inspired us to fight for every ball and never give in to defeat,” Lou said.

In the 2022 Women’s Asian Cup semifinal match between China and the championship favorite Japan, Lou, as a defender, endured four times to save the bullet headers and was eventually carried out on a stretcher, but her strong desire to boost the team’s chances of winning triumphed. 

Now in the team, Lou continues to lead the young players to fight together based on her strength and experience.

“We all love football and have the same goal. We trust each other, which is a great motivation for this team to keep going,” she said.

New look

As one of the post-2000s players in the national team’s training, Shao Ziqin only witnessed the national team’s triumphant win at the Asian Cup in 2022 on TV. But now, she has the opportunity to make a wish to “go to the World Cup and compete on the world highest stage of football.”

However, the team’s newest star got involved with football simply because her elementary school’s football coach came into the class and said, “Stand up if you were born in the Year of the Sheep.” 

But the random coincidence let Shao fall in love with football, and had no regrets about training hard to become an excellent football player.

Encouragingly, Shao is thriving in the new golden era of Chinese women’s football. 

In October 2022, China unveiled a comprehensive reform and development plan to revive women’s football in the country, outlining project timelines until 2035. 

The plan targets on seven areas of development, including a qualified management system, a revamped national team, a youth training and competition system, further development of the sport on campuses, a team of fully cultivated coaches, and a larger population of women footballers in the country.

Shui recalled the development trajectory of Chinese women’s football that she has witnessed. 

In the early 1980s, when women’s football training was just emerging in China, like Shui, who switched from athletics to football at the age of 17, most female football players were “halfway monks.”

“Now our team members have been playing football since childhood and have better skills than my generation. They are so young and full of vigor. Each era has a different environment and has major tasks to accomplish. The young generation will definitely present a new look different from the previous generation,” Shui said. 

During the training session, Shui’s new fancy manicure receives warm praise from other members of the team.

“We also love beauty. In their free time, many of our players put on makeup and lipstick and spend their breaks surfing social media platforms,” Shui said.

“Now on Sina Weibo and Douyin, many netizens reposted the clips of our match. Many fans leave messages below to show their care for us and their love for football, which makes me so happy.” Chen said.

“As we have received more attention and become the new generation of ‘Steel Roses,’ we have to show more of ourselves while inheriting the spirit of the older generation of the Chinese women’s football team,” Lou said.

Coaching staff members prepare for a training session. Photo: Lin Xiaoyi/GT

Coaching staff members prepare for a training session. Photo: Lin Xiaoyi/GT

Members of the Chinese women's national football team play at a training session in Haikou, South China's Hainan Province on January 13, 2023. Photo: Lin Xiaoyi/GT

Members of the Chinese women’s national football team play at a training session in Haikou, South China’s Hainan Province on January 13, 2023. Photo: Lin Xiaoyi/GT

 

 



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