The United States are the heavy favorites against China in the latest round of the World Cup, but don’t overlook this matchup or this opponent.
Not only is there some serious soccer-history here, but the United States will be without Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday who will miss the game due to accumulated yellow cards. The roster change puts some added pressure on the U.S. reserves and an offense that has drawn questions and criticism throughout the tournament.
So, what kind of challenge does China present? The squad is young and, relatively, inexperienced but comes into the quarterfinal match confident after a strong performance in pool play and the Round of 16.
Here’s what you need to know about the Chinese national team:
1. The Last Time These Two Teams Met – the U.S. Won the 1999 World Cup Title
There is some history here. Some biggest-soccer-moment in United States history here.
The last time China and the U.S. women’s soccer teams faced off in a World Cup match was in 1999. It was also the World Cup Final. It also came down to penalty kicks. You know the rest. Brandi Chastain scored and the United States captured a World Cup title.
It’s a game that has shaped both nation’s teams and while neither squad boasts many members from those ’99 squads, the history is still there. In fact, it’s the driving storyline behind the 2015 game.
U.S. fullback Ali Kreiger explained the importance of the team’s history with China to FIFA:
I was watching at home and all my team-mates were watching too. I thought it was a dream come true just watching all the girls play. It is something I will never forget. I remember wanting to be in their shoes, be on that field and have that experience. I wanted that dream for myself.So we want to do this [achieve success at Canada 2015] for ourselves, and our friends and families, but we also want to do it for them.
This is also not the first time these two teams have faced off and while the ’99 match was certainly the most historic, it was by no means the most recent. The United States and China played to a 1-1 draw in December after China had lost its previous seven matches to the U.S. since 2012.
2. China is No. 16 in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings
China is listed No. 16 internationally in the latest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings. That’s 12 spots ahead of Colombia who held the United States scoreless in the first half of the Round of 16.
Now, coming into the quarterfinal matchup against China, the team is nothing short of confident. They absolutely shut down Cameroon’s offense earlier this week with a 1-0 victory in the Round of 16. Overall, China has racked up four goals so far in the tournament and has assists on three of those goals. The other goal came on a penalty kick.
It’s been an uphill battle towards a return to form for the Chinese women’s soccer team, which took a serious talent slide after the heartbreaking loss in the 1999 World Cup. Although China’s one-child policy has been relaxed, many parents do not put their children on the path to sports and, according to a report by The New York Times, only 7,000 girls above the age of 12 are registered to play soccer in the country.
3. Their Odds to Win the World Cup Are 65/1
While China’s recent performance on the World Cup stage has been impressive, the team is still not projected to make it much farther than the 90 minutes of soccer it will play on Friday evening.
Of the teams left in the World Cup, oddsmakers gave China the worst odds to win the title and most analysts don’t expect the squad to make it beyond the match with the United States:
Based on the predictive metric created by FiveThirtyEight, China h as just a 12 percent chance of defeating the United States. The site’s model uses the Women’s Soccer Power Index, combing a team’s offensive and defensive ratings to dictate an overall skill level.
4. China Boasts a Strong Defense to Match the United State’s Experienced Front Line
Although China does not boast the same experience or front-line talent that exists on the U.S. roster, the Steel Roses do have one ace in their metaphorical sleeves; defense. China has developed a reputation throughout the tournament as a young, energetic group that prides itself on its relentless defense.
That kind of defense could be a difference-maker against a U.S. team that will be without two of its top midfielers.
Cameroon coach Enow Ngachu described China’s defensive attack to The New York Times:
I think they have one of the best defenses in this tournament. When they lose the ball, nearly all the Chinese players regroup themselves as fast as possible. You hardly find less than six players defending. If they keep on like that, they can create surprises.
China has given up just three goals in the tournament and goalkeeper Wang Fei has 13 saves to her name, while opponents have recorded 57 shots.
5. Wang Shanshan Has Become the Unexpected Leader for China
Wang Shanshan was not supposed to have the on-field role she has this summer. Normally a center-defender, Shanshan was moved to center-forward for the World Cup and, in a bit of an unexpected turn, the move has paid off in spades – and goals.
Shanshan scored a goal in group play against New Zealand and added another in China’s 1-0 victory over Cameroon in the Round of 16. When your team has scored four total goals having two of them isn’t a bad stat line.