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Steel Roses primed for showdown in Sydney

China Daily | Updated: 2020-02-12 08:52
China's Tang Jiali rises for a header as Chinese Taipei goalkeeper Tsai Ming-jung defends during the Steel Roses' 5-0 victory in an Asian Olympic qualifier in Sydney on Monday. XINHUA

Team China's clash against Australia to decide Olympic playoff opponent

China will battle Australia in Sydney on Thursday in a match that will decide each team's Olympic qualifying playoff opponent.

With both sides level on six points at the top of Group B, victory for China would set up a playoff against Group A runner-up Vietnam; a loss or a draw (because of the Aussies' superior goal difference) would see China face a considerably tougher test against Group A winner South Korea, which easily brushed aside Vietnam 3-0 on Sunday.

The two-legged playoffs, which will be played home and away in March, will decide the Asia zone's two representatives (joining host Japan) at this summer's Tokyo Olympics.

After easy victories over Thailand and Chinese Taipei, Team China coach Jia Xiuquan realizes world No 7 Australia will pose a different proposition for his 'Steel Roses'.

"We trained for some time in Australia before, we are getting used to their playing style," he said.

The Group B games had originally been scheduled to take place in Wuhan, Hubei province, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, from Feb 3-9. Matches were moved to Nanjing, Zhejiang province, before the decision was taken to stage the games in Australia.

Fitness concerns

Team China's players were quarantined for almost two weeks in a Brisbane hotel upon their arrival Down Under, leaving Jia concerned about their physical condition.

"We have been through a lot of troubles in our preparation for the Olympic qualifiers. My players are not in their best form," said Jia following Monday's 5-0 win over Chinese Taipei.

"The most important thing for us is we won the match and qualified for the playoff, and that also won us time to adjust ourselves."

China's quarantine period left it only one day to fly to Sydney and prepare for its first game. Despite thumping Thailand 6-1 in that opener, Jia was concerned by what he perceived as his team's rustiness.

"My players were not sharp at controlling the ball during the match. How could they be sharp after almost 10 days without touching a ball?" he said.

Preparations for the next game were then disrupted by the wild weather in Sydney, with torrential downpours restricting Jia's squad to training indoors.

"Since we arrived in Sydney the weather has not been very good. It keeps raining. Only today we have had quite good weather," Jia told on Monday. "The players are not in their best shape, and our opponents were playing more proactively in the second half, which has given us some difficulties.

"Although my team is not in the best shape, we are strong in mentality and strong in teamwork. We've improved match by match, but there is still a lot to do to prepare for the next match."

Jia will again have to plan without the services of star playmaker Wang Shuang. The former Paris Saint-Germain attacker was one of four Chinese players left stranded in Wuhan due to virus-control regulations.

When Wuhan was placed into lockdown to reduce the spread of the virus on Jan 23, Wang was staying with her family for the Spring Festival holidays and could not leave to join the Chinese squad.

She's been keeping her spirits up and even getting a little practice in on the evidence of a video she posted on her Weibo account on Sunday, which showed the 25-year-old performing keepy-uppies on the roof an apartment building.

If Wuhan is still locked down when next month's Olympic qualifying playoffs take place, there will be no way for Wang to leave the city and return to the national team, a Chinese Football Association (CFA) source told Xinhua.

The CFA tried in vain to get Wang out of Wuhan before the Chinese team flew to Australia on Jan 29, the source added.

Aussies cruise

Australia sealed its playoff berth with a 6-0 thrashing of Thailand at Campbelltown Stadium in Sydney on Monday.

A hat-trick from Emily van Egmond, a Kyah Simon brace and a further goal from substitute Hayley Raso saw the host cruise to victory and retain top spot in Group B on goal difference ahead of China.

Thailand had stubbornly held out until the 44th minute when van Egmond broke the deadlock. After that, however, the floodgates opened with Raso's and Simon's late strikes ensuring Australia finished above China in the standings.

Ante Milicic's Aussie side had begun its campaign in equally emphatic fashion, drubbing Chinese Taipei 7-0 last Thursday.

The Aussies' superior goals tally means they only require a draw against the Steel Roses on Thursday.

Monday's result was the end of the road for Thailand, which suffered a third successive defeat to finish bottom of the group.

Xinhua contributed to this story.

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