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2019 Women's World Cup team previews: China PR

After reaching the quarterfinals at both the 2015 World Cup in Canada and the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, China will be looking to go a step or two further at France 2019 led by reigning Asian Women's Footballer of the Year Wang Shuang. China will be appearing in its seventh World Cup finals, with its best finish coming in 1999 as runners-up to the United States.

How they got here

China earned a spot in France via a third-place finish at the 2018 AFC Women's Asian Cup, which doubles as AFC World Cup qualification. With the top five teams in the tournament all qualifying for the World Cup, China secured qualification by topping Group A over Thailand, the Philippines and Jordan with a perfect 3-0 record.

Strengths/Weaknesses

China's attack was its greatest strength in its run to the Asian Cup semifinals. In Shuang, Li Ying and Song Duang, China has three big-time attacking weapons. China was the top-scoring team at the Asian Cup with 19 goals over five games. Ying led the way with a tournament-high seven.

Will the moment prove too big for China again? China flopped at the Algarve Cup earlier this year, finishing an embarrassing dead last out of 12 nations. China has struggled in big tournaments of late, and in a tough Group B, it will need to be up for the occasion this time or the team will fail to reach the knockouts.

Money Stat: 20

It has been 20 years since China reached a semifinal at a major tournament. One of the power nations in the early days of women's international soccer, China reached the semifinals at the 1995 World Cup and finished as runners-up at both the 1996 Olympics and 1999 World Cup.

Since then, China has fallen considerably behind some of the other elite national programs, hitting rock-bottom in 2011 when they failed to even qualify for the World Cup. It now has been 20 years since China reached even a semifinal at either a World Cup or Olympic Games.

Players to Watch

Wang Shuang is the only Chinese player on the World Cup roster who plays her football in Europe, and the 24-year-old PSG star, who has been handed the nickname "Lady Messi," will have the weight of a nation on her shoulders this summer. The classy midfielder won the 2018 Asian Women's Player of the Year, and with 93 caps and 25 goals already to her name, she has a real chance to go down as one of China's best ever.

Li Ying is also one to watch as her play seems to be a good barometer for China as a team. When Ying is scoring goals like she was at the 2018 Asian Cup, China can be a really formidable foe. On the other hand, she failed to score at the past two major tournaments (2016 Olympics, 2015 World Cup), and China went out in the quarterfinals both times by 1-0 scorelines. China will be hoping for the good Ying in France, and if they get her, the sky is the limit for the Steel Roses.

Key game

China and Spain seem like they could be on a collision course for a decisive group stage finale on June 17 in Le Havre. If Germany wins the group as expected, it will be traditional power China and rapidly rising Spain battling it out for second place. There's a chance both could go through depending on the ranking of third-place teams, but a win in that game would almost certainly secure progression to the knockout stages for the Chinese.

Local Feedback

"Thanks to the CFA [Chinese Football Association] and my national team for their support to allow me to dream big. May this award inspire my team and myself to do better in the women's World Cup [in 2019]. This is just a beginning." -- Shuang after being named Asian Women's Footballer of the Year last November

Prediction

China will get out of the group stage, but getting over that quarterfinal hurdle will prove too difficult again. Look for Wang Shuang to have a coming-out party in France, but the rest of the roster has been largely inconsistent and that will doom China to a quarterfinal exit for the third major tournament running.

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