By sportswriters Wei Hua
HONG KONG, China, Feb. 7 (Xinhua) -- Head coach Shui Qingxia added another glittering chapter to her already inspiring autobiography, guiding China to win the AFC Women's Asian Cup after 16 years on Sunday.
"History shows that more than nearly anyone else, Shui Qingxia knows how to win the AFC Women's Asian Cup," as the AFC wrote in an interview before the kickoff.
Maybe Shui Qingxia was born to win the AFC Women's Asian Cup.
This might sound like hyperbole, but if anyone leafs through Shui's profiles, he will quickly realize it is no exaggeration to describe it like that.
As a member of the "golden generation" of the Chinese national women's football team back in the 1990s, Shui has lifted the trophy five times in 11 years even without conceding a defeat, forming the most dominant team in the history of the women's game in Asia.
Despite being hailed as the most successful team in the campaign with numerous trophies in the cabinet, China hasn't tasted the joy again since it won the eighth title in 2006, the last title in that roll.
The Steel Roses declined rapidly in the last decade, and China is no longer an opposite that every team dreaded. The trend climaxed at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games when former head coach Jia Xiuquan guided a much younger squad to a 5-0 loss to Brazil, a 4-4 draw with Zambia and an 8-2 loss to the Netherlands.
Then Shanghai women's team coach Shui took over the team on November 18, 2021, when no one expected her to be a difference-maker in India two and a half months later at the Asian Cup. However, Shui and her players beat the odds to claim the ninth title with great perseverance and tenacity.
"Claiming the Asian Cup with smart substitutions!", "The anchor of China!", "Winning the trophies as a player and a coach!" Chinese social media was packed with posts of praises as fans were impressed by Shui's magics, she once became one of the top tags on China's Twitter-like Weibo.
To any successor to Jia Xiuquan, it is beyond imagination to revive a team who suffered a shocking fiasco in the summer, not mention in such a short period of time. It seemed as if China had lost the advantages it had sharpened in the past, which made many think China should just target a World Cup spot through the Asian Cup, instead of the crown.
And what she has done in the past half months proved she really is the right person for the coaching spot of China.
Following two relatively comfortable group games, China registered three consecutive comeback wins in the knock-out stage, including a shoot-out win over Japan in the semifinal and battling from 2-0 down to overturn South Korea 3-2 in the final.
"The championship will not make our way ahead smooth, we will continue improving technically and mentally," Shui kept humble after the final.
The meaning of "Shui", her family name, is "water" in Chinese, but coach Shui is more strict and mentally stronger than expected on her beloved football.
What's less well-known is that Shui initially started her career in track and field, majoring in long jump and pentathlon in a sports school, six years before she was recommended to be a footballer.
At the age of 17, the transformation is too late. Many years after the choice, she was still a little confused, "I felt horrible at that time, how is it possible to let a girl play soccer? But let it be. "
Juggling, dribbling, tactics, despite starting from scratch, Shui quickly stood out among hundreds of candidates to break into Shanghai senior squad.
One year later, she earned a call-up from the national side where she found her footing and played as a regular to claim the silver medal in the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games.
Besides that, Shui also was one of the pioneers among China's female footballers to play abroad as she has two spells at Japan's clubs.
As a player, Shui was very self-disciplined. As a coach, she was once noted for strict demands. But now, she become "soft", focusing more on the psychological construction.
"The young players nowadays are much different, they are more sensitive, one sentence even one special tone may have impacts on them, so what they need more are encouragements," Shui said.
"Before the shoot-out against Japan, I told them to be relaxed and stay confident, I am convinced that we have it because we have equalized two times," Shui disclosed.
Entering into the break with a 2-0 deficit in the final, Shui still encouraged her players to give it go. In the meantime, Shui made a bold change by hauling off injured key player Wang Shuang with starlet Zhang Yanlin, who jumped at the chance to help China equalize in a matter of 5 minutes.
"It feels good, especially I saw the fighting spirit when we trailed behind, I want to thank my players, they overcame the opposites and themselves," Shui noted.
The win is just like a beam of light for the Chinese national women's football team after hitting another low point. As China seeks to return to the upper echelon of the football world, Shui's timely arrival is providing the right spark. ■