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Wang's journey from Wuhan rooftop to China's soccer savior

China Daily | Updated: 2021-04-15 07:42
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Wang Shuang celebrates Tuesday's playoff win over South Korea in Suzhou. XINHUA

SUZHOU, Jiangsu province - Wang Shuang was locked down and left kicking a ball on a rooftop in the coronavirus epicenter of Wuhan when China's women's soccer team began its Olympic qualification campaign 14 months ago.

But the midfielder was hailed as the savior of Chinese soccer after netting a decisive extra-time goal on Tuesday in Suzhou to send the Steel Roses to this summer's Tokyo Games.

Wang's crucial strike in a 4-3 aggregate victory over South Korea, having also scored in the second half on Tuesday and the winner in the first leg, embellished her reputation as the face of Chinese women's soccer. The opposition coach described her as "world class".

More than that, it was a badly needed boost for Chinese soccer following the financial collapse of men's domestic top-flight champion Jiangsu FC, known as Jiangsu Suning until recently.

"Thank you Miss Wang Shuang! You not only helped the Chinese women's team get an Olympic ticket, you saved the currently sluggish Chinese soccer!" renowned journalist Ma Dexing wrote.

Wang is still only 26 but it is another chapter in an eventful life that was upended by the divorce of her parents when she was 5 and saw her consumed by loneliness as a child player trying to make it far away from her family.

Since turning professional and then making her China debut in 2013 there have been successful stints abroad, first in South Korea and with Paris Saint-Germain in 2018-2019.

After scoring on her debut for PSG, French newspaper Le Parisien declared: "Wang Shuang has already conquered Paris."

She scored eight goals and made seven assists in 27 games for the French team, but was homesick and drawn back to Wuhan.

She found herself stranded there when COVID-19 cases were detected in the city and it was placed under lockdown in January 2020.

It meant China had to conduct the bulk of its Olympic qualifying campaign without its star player, who was meanwhile filmed on top of a building firing balls against a wall to keep fit.

"I thought a lot during that time," Wang said of those long 76 days marooned in Wuhan.

When the domestic league belatedly kicked off in a bio-secure "bubble", Wang helped her local team win the Chinese championship. "The title belongs to the city of Wuhan," she said. "It has not been easy on any of us."

Lonely days

As a little girl, soccer was an escape for Wang.

After her parents divorced and left Wuhan, a young Wang was sent to live with an aunt and uncle, whom she regards as her mother and father.

"I loved soccer because it allowed me to express myself and get attention," she told The Players' Tribune website in 2019. "And at that time, after my parents' divorce, I needed that."

As a young player of obvious promise, Wang was enrolled at a national training school in Beijing, more than 1,000 kilometers away from Wuhan.

Once, when she was just 12, she traveled to the capital alone on a sleeper train, crying all night.

She was in tears too at the final whistle on Tuesday - this time in joy - after which South Korea's coach Colin Bell described Wang as "world class" and "very, very dangerous".

"Those opportunities, if they're gifted (to her), she'll take them," said the Englishman.

AFP

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