China nip 1-0 win over South Africa to keep hopes of World Cup last 16 alive
Forward Li Ying's first-half volley saved China from the brink of exit as the 1999 runners-up claimed their first win on Thursday against FIFA Women's World Cup debutants South Africa.
With the 1-0 victory, China extend the aggregate score against South Africa to 29-0 and keep their hopes of entering the knockout stage alive.
The China-South Africa game also sent Group B leaders Germany to a secured spot of qualifying to the last 16.
China and Spain are hopeful to join the world No. 2 with both having lost 1-0 to Germany. Spain came from behind to beat South Africa 3-1 earlier.
As 24 teams are divided into six groups, the top two of each group and the four best third-placers qualify for the round of 16.
China head coach Jia Xiuquan, however, was rather unsatisfied, with a desire for more goals.
"I think my players should still have been better at seizing the chances at the critical moment and should have been more calm. For the next game, the team needs to improve control of the ball," said the former head coach of China's men's U-19 national team.
"I hope that the players can exhibit their true ability. Their desire to win has impressed me the most over the year and I've been deeply moved by this. This has given me courage to lead them.
"I think they've done a great job today. And I think this is also a manifestation of their mentality. They want to win," he added.
In tonight's duel, Chinese playmaker Zhang Rui sliced the rivals' defending line on the right and curled in a perfect cross which found Li Ying who came up to a cool finish, beating South African captain Janine van Wyk to the ball to prod past a stranded keeper Kaylin Swart in the 40th minute.
The 26-year-old Li, a World Cup debutant, was selected as Visa Player of the Match.
Li said, "It doesn't matter if I score, the most important thing is winning as a team."
The first goal of China in France emerged in their domination from the very beginning.
Paris Saint-German star Wang Shuang started for China for the first time in Parc des Princes, just next door to her club team's home Stade Jean Bouin, and was directly involved in at least three first-half attempts, though the 24-year-old seemed not having tried enough to go for goal.
With five minutes from the clock, Wang, who got off the bench in China's 1-0 loss to Germany last Saturday, launched a perfect free kick, but none of her teammates in front of the goal managed to have a touch on the ball.
One of the link-up corner kicks picked up Han Peng, and only see the 29-year-old midfielder's header blocked by South Africa's goalie Swart.
South Africa looked to pose a few threats to the former Asian powerhouses through counter-attacks, but the lack of accurate final touch cost them all the promising opportunities.
Banyana Banyana's best chance came through Thembi Kgatlana as the Africa's Player of the Year, who scored in the 3-1 defeat to Spain, burst into the box and fired into the side net.