The biggest trophy in women’s football is weeks away from being lifted, as France prepare to host the upcoming 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup which kicks off this Friday.
The opener sees the host nation welcome South Korea to the Parc des Princes in a game in which Corinne Diacre’s Les Bleues are expected to sweep aside the Asian outfit.
Twenty-four teams qualified to challenge for ultimate glory in Paris, with fellow Asian sides Australia, Japan, Thailand and South Korea making it five AFC Nations alongside China.
The road to France for Jia Xuiquan’s Chinese side began with a 4-0 demolition of Thailand in Amman, before a convincing 3-1 win over the Philippines saw the Steel Roses book their place in the finals.
Having never won the competition before, China’s world ranking of 16 doesn’t paint the prettiest picture in regard to the People’s Republic finally breaking that duck.
That said, this current batch of players will be looking to go one step further than their squad of 20 years ago, where they succumb to a 5-4 defeat on penalties at the hands of the United States in the nation’s only ever World Cup final.
With a small pool of players available, Chinese hopes look to rest on the shoulders of one player. Similar with the need for star striker Wu Lei to perform for the Men’s side, PSG forward Wang Shuang, dubbed the ‘Female Chinese Messi’ in these parts of the world, will need her shooting boots on as she aims to help propel China to the perfect start on Saturday.
Wang Shuang, the ‘Female Chinese Messi’ [Image via Xinhua]
Her partner in crime up front will be the prolific Wang Shansan. The 29-year-old scored an astonishing triple hat trick against Tajikstan as her nine goals helped China record an emphatic 16-0 victory in last summer’s Asian Games.
The Steel Roses kick off their campaign with the daunting prospect of facing the second ranked team in the world, Germany, in Rennes. As tough of a fixture that is sure to be, China’s other two group games see them face easier opposition in South Africa and Spain.
The South Africans, ranked 49th in the world, made history by qualifying for the tournament for the first ever time, and narrowly missed out on African Cup of Nations glory at the hands of Nigeria.
The Spanish are ranked slightly higher than China in 13th, but with the surprising omission of taliswoman Vero Boquete from the squad, the Spaniards may come up short in the clash in Le Havre.
The main team news regarding the Chinese side is that vice-captain and midfield general Zhang Rui was left out of the squad, which could lead to other sides exploiting gaps in and around China’s defensive line.
Looking at the form and strength of squads, the Germans look to be leaps and bounds above anyone else in Group B. The whole experience for debutants South Africa could have a quite a startling effect on the Banyana Banyana, which would leave a two-horse race between China and Spain for that all important second spot and ‘easier tie’ in the round of sixteen.
So who are competition favorites?
Three times champions USA go into the tournament as huge favourites, and rightly so after lifting the trophy last time out in Canada in 2015. Hot on their tails will be England though. Phil Neville’s Lionesses stunned the footballing world by winning the SheBelieves Cup in March after hammering Japan 3-0 in the final game.
That Japanese side will be keen for revenge, and Germany and France also have a huge chance of lifting the prestigious trophy. The opening game between France and South Korea kicks off at 9pm (UTC+2) – so 3am Saturday morning in China.
Jia Xuiquan’s side’s group stage games are as follows:
China vs Germany
Roazhon Park, Rennes
June 8, 9pm in China
China vs South Africa
Parc des Princes, Paris
June 14, 3am in China
China v Spain
Stade Océane, Le Havre
June 18, 12am in China