Sat, 25 Sep 2021

Feature: Wang Shuang, stay strong and carry on!

Xinhua
28 Jul 2021, 12:44 GMT+10

TOKYO, July 28 (Xinhua) -- The final whistle at the stadium in Yokohama seemed to remind people that the result was true, not a mere nightmare: the China women's football team ended their journey at the Tokyo Olympics with a 8-2 defeat against the Netherlands in the group stage on Tuesday.

This is not the result that star player Wang Shuang would like to see, even though her assist for teammate Wang Shanshan to score temporarily leveled things.

She carried on until the last minute, almost scoring another goal at the end of the match.

"We cherish each opportunity, and we would like to have more people see how beautiful, happy and healthy the women footballers are," she had said before the Olympics.

Wang, 26, showed her talent in football as a child, representing China U-17 at the age of 12. Five years later, she played in the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup.

Wang's resume is littered with personal accolades: former midfielder of French club Paris Saint-Germain, selected by French sports outlet Pied Carres Foot Feminin to the Best 11 squad for the first half of the 2018-19 season, and Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Women's Player of the Year in 2018.

Her outstanding performance in the Olympic qualifier against South Korea helped China, known as the Steel Roses, book a late Olympic ticket.

"It was down to the team's collective efforts," she later said humbly. "We chased every ball in attack and got stuck in defensively. The entire team strove throughout the two legs to live up to expectations," she said.

After her parents divorced when she was five, Wang was raised by her aunt in Wuhan, in central China's Hubei Province. Her cousin Cao Guodong took football classes when she was only seven. When he played, the girl stood beside the football pitch to watch, and would sometimes join in.

Xu Yilong, Cao's coach at the time, found Wang to be agile and quick in her playful behavior, and encouraged her to train with the boys.

"She was staunch and hard-working," Xu recalled.

As the only girl in the boys' team, Wang's performances were impressive, earning her the nickname "Iron Girl".

"When I ran with them, trying to get the ball and strike it, I felt that I was no different from the boys," she said.

Unyielding was the impression she would give to many people.

In 2020, her hometown Wuhan saw an outbreak of COVID-19. She could not leave the city due to lockdown.

"I thought a lot during that time. Because of the pandemic, we stayed at home for several months without any systematic training," she said.

Wang made a self-training plan. A video she posted on social media showed her training on the rooftop of her apartment building wearing a face mask. Sometimes her cousin Cao, who is now also a footballer, joined in to assist her.

However, the city's lockdown also meant that Wang missed China's Olympic qualification matches in Australia, the result of which was a playoff berth against South Korea.

Wang scored China's winning goal in the first leg to beat South Korea 2-1.

The second leg in Suzhou was more dramatic, with South Korea taking a two-goal lead within the first hour.

"We never thought of giving up, even when we were 2-0 behind," Wang recalled. "We believed that we could pull it back, either in 90 or 120 minutes."

During the second half of the match, Wang crossed for her teammate Yang Man to level the score. Wang herself scored in extra-time to secure her country a place at the Olympics.

After a 5-0 debacle against Brazil in the first group match, the Iron Roses then faced Zambia. Wang alone scored four goals to salvage a 4-4 draw.

Although Wang's Olympic journey was cut short, her football career continues.

"I have confidence in the future of the Steel Roses," she once said. "It is not impossible for our team to become No. 1 in Asia, as long as we stay strong and carry on, towards the right direction. Maybe the efforts of our generation are not enough. It requires efforts from everyone and every generation, to bring Chinese football to the top."

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