Thu, 13 May 2021

By sportswriters He Leijing and Wang Hengzhi

NANJING, April 16 (Xinhua) -- Wang Shuang spent much time kicking a ball on a rooftop in China's coronavirus epicenter Wuhan over a year ago. But now, the 26-year-old star midfielder is in high spirits, looking to show her prowess at the Tokyo Olympics.

Wang contributed one goal and one assist, including the winner in extra-time, to help the Steel Roses come from 2-0 behind and squeeze past South Korea 4-3 on aggregate in the Olympic Qualification playoffs on April 13.

The Steel Roses booked the last Asian ticket to the Tokyo Olympics, concluding their bumpy qualification campaign in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's so tough, and I'm so glad we all got through it," said Wang, who was isolated in Wuhan which was locked down to prevent the virus spread 14 months ago, when her teammates started their Olympic qualification journey.

Wang was hailed by millions of Chinese fans as a savior after she fired a long-distance left-footed shot into the bottom corner in the 103rd minute, which also torpedoed South Korea's hopes to play at the Olympics for the first time.

LEAVING HER MARK

The former Paris Saint-Germain forward burst into tears after the final whistle, as more than 13,500 jubilant fans rose to their feet with thunderous applause and cheers in the eastern Chinese city of Suzhou.

South Korea head coach Colin Bell spoke highly of Wang's performance, saying that his team couldn't afford to let such a "world-class player" take over the match. "If we are gifting that kind of player that opportunity, she's not going to say no."

But Wang's secret to the stunning performances on the pitch may be seen through her unique practices, as many Chinese wrote on social media after watching her clip of firing balls on a rooftop that success arises from the belief of never giving in to bad days.

The team members, except Wang, paused their training and left Wuhan a day before the city went into lockdown, leaving the Wuhan native stranded in her hometown. They were then quarantined and continued simple exercises in Australia after the qualifying tournament was moved out of China.

"I was anxious back then, thinking that I might lose a big chance to prove myself," Wang said of her long 77 days isolated in Wuhan.

"Our coach kept comforting me and told me not to give up, so I decided to have my way of practicing -- kicking a ball on the rooftop, which gradually made me easy," she added.

"Our matches have been postponed for a long time, but all of us have a strong desire to win," said Jia Xiuquan, head coach of the team.

58-year-old Jia is confident his players will retain their fighting spirit all the way to Tokyo. And Wang feels the responsibility, as she has built her name as the face of Chinese women's football.

Since making her China debut in 2013, Wang has had successful stints abroad, first in South Korea and with PSG in 2018-2019. She scored eight goals and made seven assists in 27 games for the French team.

But besides star power, Wang said the most important thing for them to compete, is to unite as one.

"It's not my own credit. We are a team and everyone is inseparable on our road to Tokyo," Wang said.

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