EDMONTON, Alberta – Han Peng was 9 years old when China lost to the United States on penalty kicks in an epic championship match at the 1999 Women’s World Cup.
When she learned of the result the next day, Han, now 25, “felt so disappointed,” she said. “I thought to myself, if I were given the opportunity in the future, I will beat them.”
Now a starting midfielder, Han will get her long-awaited chance at redemption Friday, when a revived Chinese team faces the Americans in the World Cup quarterfinals in Ottawa, Ontario.
A long slide followed the 1999 World Cup for the Chinese women, who failed to qualify for the 2011 tournament or the 2012 London Olympics. The team went through coaches like rolls of tape. And China’s one-child policy has left many parents and schools reluctant to place an emphasis on sports — and accept the possibility of injury — over education, officials and former players said.
The resurgence of the women’s national team at this year’s World Cup in Canada reflects, in part, a new emphasis placed on men’s and women’s soccer in China at the highest levels of government.
Coach Hao Wei has restored the bloom to the Steel Roses, as the team is known, with a young, energetic roster that is fast, relentless and thoroughly organized in defense.
China is a “very difficult team to put away,” said Tony DiCicco, who coached the U.S. to the 1999 title and declined an offer to coach China in 2004.
“They’ll be organized,” DiCicco said. “Their problem is the ability to score goals. They don’t have special players like they did.”
New York Times