Thorns on the road threaten Steel Roses' cup dreams
The success of the women's World Cup, to be hosted by China later this year, could be seriously undermined by the chaos surrounding the national team, says the mainland's greatest player.
Sun Wen, the 1999 Fifa women's player of the year, voiced her concern after the Steel Roses flopped at the prestigious Algarve Cup last week. China settled for 10th place in the annual showpiece in Portugal, a tournament featuring the world's best women's teams, after a shock 4-1 mauling at the hands of unheralded Iceland.
The United States won the trophy after beating Denmark 2-0 in the final. China's defeat marked their sixth in a row over the past two months, their longest losing streak ever.
China will host the September 10-30 Women's World Cup (WWC) in five cities - Shanghai, Hangzhou, Wuhan, Chengdu and Tianjin.
'It's inconceivable that the home team should fail to have a competitive team at the World Cup, because such failure could take a toll on the public's interest in the event,' said Sun, now an official on the WWC organising committee. 'This dismal run is devastating to the players' confidence and could make that failure inevitable.'
The Chinese Football Association (CFA), Sun pointed out, should bear the brunt of the blame for the downward spiral. 'The way they handle the national team really confuses many people,' said Sun, referring to the association's frequent changing of coaches.
There have been frustrations galore as five different coaches have come and gone in less than four years. The status of the current coach, Ma Liangxing, is up in the air, adding to the all-round mood of confusion.
The team have been training since early January under acting head coach Wang Haiming, a former assistant to Ma, who went on 'sick leave' citing cardiac problems and giving rise to a lot of rumours. Some have speculated that Ma went on leave to protest against the alleged interference in his job by CFA officials.
Although Ma later backed down and agreed to return to work, the governing body, shocked by the apparent insubordination, set about hunting for a new manager.
Ma said he would not resign and challenged the association to fire him.
Sun fears time may not be on China's side.
'You can't expect the new coach to make a big difference within six months. The priority is to appoint one as soon as possible and put the World Cup preparations back on track. For the rest of it, we have to leave it to luck,' Sun said.