China’s Weng Xinzhi tries to stop the Women’s World Stars’ Portia Modise in her tracks. Photo: Han Li (LOC)

A last-minute strike by Ji Ting snatched China a 3-2 victory over the FIFA Women’s World Stars on the eve of the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final Draw, much to the delight of the home crowd at the Wuhan Sport Center Stadium, one of the five venues which will be used for the competition itself.

“The biggest significance is the young team rediscovered their normal self-confidence and this is most important in the build-up for the Women’s World Cup,” said China coach Wang Haiming afterwards.

Having disappointed in the Algarve Cup in March, where they lost all four matches against European opposition, the contest provided the Steel Roses with a good chance to lift their confidence.

And with the newly appointed Marika Domanski-Lyfors watching from the dugout while assistant coach Wang Haiming oversaw what should be his last game as the team’s caretaker coach, the Chinese players spared no energy in showcasing their talents to the former Sweden tactician.

For their part, skippered by Bente Nordby and inspired by 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup-winning coach Tina Theune-Meyer and England boss Hope Powell, the visiting players were keen to vindicate their inclusion in the FIFA Women’s World Stars selection.

China coach Wang Haiming fielded a side with an average age of 22, with three players from the team that reached the Russia 2006 Final complimenting an experienced triumvirate of captain Li Lijie, Xie Caixia and Han Duan.

In contrast, Theune-Meyer and Powell looked to have more famous options at hand, and they could even afford to leave the evergreen American midfielder Kristine Lilly and Korea DPR striker Kun Suk out of the starting eleven.

Early Goals

Having gone through a one-month training camp, the hosts started quickly but with just four minutes on the clock, they found themselves trailing to a goal from Germany forward Conny Pohlers. Monica Gonzalez picked up a throw-in from left and the Mexican defender crossed for Pohlers to plant a powerful header past Zhang Yanru.

However, the goal prompted an incessant wave of Chinese attacks and cheered on by the vociferous home supporters, it did not take long for them to restore parity, teenager Liu Sa heading Zhou Gaoping’s inch-perfect corner past Bente Nordby on 12 minutes.

On level terms, China took control of the game, pinning the rivals back into their own third. Shortly before the half-hour mark, their relentless assault on the visitors’ goal paid off when Han Duan headed them into the lead.

China looked set to take a lead in at the break, but on 42 minutes Daniela’s free-kick found the head of an unmarked Cheryl Salisbury, who duly equalised for the world stars.

Women’s Football the Winner

China’s Weng Xinzhi tries to stop the Women’s World Stars’ Portia Modise in her tracks. Photo: Han Li (LOC) Portia Modise of the Women’s World Stars clashes with China’s Xie Ciaxia. Photo: Han Li (LOC)

The FIFA Women’s World Stars made six changes at the break, and they were almost rewarded when Portia Modise went racing through on goal, only for the South African to place her shot over the crossbar. Both sides went in search of a winning goal, but with tired legs hindering the striking of both sets of attackers, chances went begging.

In the closing stages, however, China upped the tempo and neat footwork allowed Wang Kun to cut the ball back for Ji Ting, who kept her cool to send a low drive into the net in the last minute and provoke wild celebrations on the stands.

China’s win also impressed Hope Powell, who believes the Steel Roses have improved significantly since the start of the year: “I am happy to see that China have improved a lot since we (England) played them in January, and they proved they could play against a strong team for victory.

“This game was a real exhibition, just a great event and a fantastic occasion. Personally it was a great honour to be part of the coaching staff. We played better in the second half, but couldn’t finish our chances,” Powell added.

The FIFA Women’s World Stars will have been understandably disappointed to have leaked a late equaliser, but the true winner on an enthralling night was women’s football. “This was a great day for women’s soccer and an exciting event for the fans,” said Lilly.

The showpiece proved the perfect way to open the Final Draw for 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup.