Montpellier: China PR’s FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019 campaign ended in disappointment as they suffered a 2-0 defeat to Italy in their Round of 16 match at Stade de la Mosson on Tuesday.
China had been aiming to become the first third-placed team to win a knockout stage match in tournament history, but early goals in each half from Valentina Giacinti and Aurora Galli prevented the Steel Roses from reaching their seventh World Cup quarter-final.
In a hard-fought and largely even match, Italy showed greater quality and decisiveness in the two penalty areas to set up a quarter-final meeting with either the Netherlands or Japan on Saturday.
Chinese head coach Jia Xiuquan had implored his players to find their attacking groove in Montpellier, but the opening quarter-hour of the contest was dominated by Italy’s Giacinti.
The AC Milan striker’s first major contribution was to put the ball into the back of the net in the 10th minute, only to see it ruled out for offside - the fourth such chalking off of an Italian goal in this World Cup - before she narrowly missed an attempt at catching Peng Shimeng off her line after a poor giveaway by Han Peng three minutes later.
But Giancinti’s persistence, and disarray in the Chinese defence, had an inevitable conclusion, and when the Steel Roses wasted a number of chances to clear a loose ball in the 15th minute, it was hard to begrudge her the first goal of the tournament.
Now behind, China PR sprung into action with a series of surging moves which kept their major offensive weapons – Wang Shuang, Li Ying and Wang Shanshan – all regularly involved.
Chinese hopes for a penalty for a high Italian boot were rejected by both the referee and VAR in the 25th minute, and an excellent long-range attempt by Wang Yan stung the fingertips of Italian shot-stopper Laura Giulinai not long after.
Big win. ??#FIFAWWC pic.twitter.com/Fcgrgth0GC
— FIFA Women's World Cup (@FIFAWWC) June 25, 2019
The pressure on the Azzurre continued when Li Ying hit the upright, albeit from an offside position, in the 42nd minute, but despite a commanding 20-minute spell from China, they remained on the wrong side of a 1-0 scoreline at the interval.
It proved to be a case of half-time coming at the wrong time for China, who paid a heavy price for trying to play their way out of a dangerous situation in their own half, with Galli, who had been substituted on just before half-time, slamming a low drive past Peng to give the Steel Roses a mountain to climb.
Having scored just one goal in their more than 300 minutes in the tournament, the Steel Roses needed two in 40 minutes just to force extra-time, and Jia cleared his bench in an attempt to find the ingredients to make such a feat a possibility.
China pushed for goals but stumbled at crucial moments, with Giuliani surviving the final stages of the match without ever really being tested as Italy celebrated a quarter-final berth that few would have predicted at the outset of the tournament.
Photos: FIFA via Getty Images