Successful Steel Roses
A sneak preview of the host national team was provided the night before the draw, when China (or the Steel Roses as they are affectionately named) turned out against FIFA Women’s World Stars team packed full of the cream of women’s football talent – Kristine Lilly (USA), Cheryl Salisbury (Australia), Ri Kum-Suk (DPR Korea), and Daniela (Brazil) to name just a few. The stars put on a glittering display of football for the 31,000 Wuhan men, women and children in attendance at the stunning Wuhan Sports Centre Stadium. True to their reputation for being the country’s craziest and most enthusiastic fans, the Wuhan fans roused their team with chanting, flag waving and drum beats right through to the end. The Chinese responded to their call when they pipped the World Stars in the dying minutes with a goal by Ji Ting to make it 3-2 to the home team.
The result would have been a huge boost for the Local Organising Committee as well as the Steel Roses, after a string of poor results for the 11th ranked team in the world culminated in a 4-1 defeat by Iceland (ranked 21st) in the Algarve Cup earlier this year. Their 10th placing in the tournament led the legendary Chinese international Sun Wen to express her concern at the impact the team’s performance might have on public interest in the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Certainly, the job of the tournament organizers would be a breeze of the Steel Roses, now under the guidance of former Swedish coach Marika Domanski-Lyfors, emulate some of their previous efforts – in particular their silver medal at the Atlanta Olympics and three years later, their storming run to the historic 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup final where they eventually lost to hosts USA in a penalty shoot-out in front of over 90,000 fans. The Steel Roses’ performance in both tournaments left the Chinese nation in raptures, and with high expectations for the future of women’s football in the country.
It would certainly be a dream come true for China if their team was to lift the FIFA Women’s World Cup for the first time on home soil. Regardless of the outcome of the Steel Roses’ performance however, the Local Organising Committee has been working hard to ensure that the tournament is an unquestionable success, not only for players and football fans, but for the whole of China. In this regard, Chengdu, one of the host cities, kicked off its preparations with a huge fan festival on International Women’s Day in March this year. Fans flocked to Chunxi Ave in downtown Chengdu to witness penalty shoot-out competitions and a special appearance by a group of local schoolchildren dressed up as the city’s much loved symbol, the panda. An animal thought to symbolize the good nature of human kind, the panda is seen by the Chengdu city officials as a goodwill ambassador to all those traveling from across the world to China for the Women’s World Cup.