1999 loss to US inspires budding roses

The Chinese women's football team training at Lansdowne Stadium in Ottawa, Ontario on the eve of their World Cup quarter-final against the US, a repeat of the 1999 final in California.
The Chinese women's football team training at Lansdowne Stadium in Ottawa, Ontario on the eve of their World Cup quarter-final against the US, a repeat of the 1999 final in California.PHOTO: XINHUA

OTTAWA - China captain Wu Haiyan was only six years old when The Steel Roses competed in their only Women's World Cup final.

That time, their rivals the United States won a penalty shoot-out to break Chinese hearts in Pasadena's Rose Bowl.

Sixteen years on, a new-look Chinese side will be bidding to bury those painful memories against the Stars and Stripes in this morning's (Singapore time) second quarter-final at Ottawa's Lansdowne Stadium.

"I didn't watch the match at that time. I watched replays later in life. It was an exciting and historical moment," said the 22-year-old defender. "I hope we can create history too tomorrow."

That run by China to the final inspired Wu's team-mate Wang Shanshan to take up football.

"I was in primary school, but I remember watching it very well. That was when my dream started, when China played so well to reach the World Cup final. Sun Wen was my favourite player and my hero at that time," said the 25-year-old defender.

It was also the last time the US won the title, having already lifted the inaugural trophy in 1991 in China.

The second-ranked Americans are rated 14 places above their opponents and the Chinese have additional motivation, having also lost out on gold to the US at the 1996 Olympics.

China coach Wei Hao, back on the sidelines after being banished to the stands for their last-16 win over Cameroon, had more practical things than revenge on his mind.

"What's past is past," he told the pre-match press conference. "I don't think it's vengeance or anything like that. It's just a match we have to approach in our usual mindset.

"We haven't played the US for a long time on such a scale. If we put on a good performance, this will be a boost for the sport in China."

The Americans will be without two of their key players - Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday - through suspension. But US captain Christie Rampone, with 307 caps and the only survivor from the 1999 final, is still playing for the US at age 40.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2015, with the headline '1999 loss to US inspires budding roses'. Print Edition | Subscribe