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Roundup: Chinese women's hockey team eyeing Paris Olympics medal

2024-04-28 07:37 Xinhua

PERTH, Australia, April 28 (Xinhua) -- From mid-March to late April, the Chinese women's hockey team finished a seven-week training program on Sunday in the Australian city of Perth, with their skills finely honed for the upcoming Paris Olympics as well as strength showcased on the pitch.

One highlight of the program was China's participation in the 2024 Perth International Festival of Hockey, where a squad of 26 female players went head-to-head with host Australia and Japan in a double round-robin format.

Since Australia's two-time Olympic gold medalist Alyson Annan took charge in May 2022, China rose from 14th place in the world rankings to the eighth ahead of the Perth matches.

Three-time Olympic champions Australia, also known as Hockeyroos, remained a traditionally strong team without dropping out of the world's top three for the past two years.

Meanwhile, Japan cracked the top ten following a 2-0 win over Chile at an Olympic qualifier in January. Both China and Japan were also drawn into the same pool at the Paris Olympics, setting the stage for an early group-phase clash in their bid to reach the quarterfinals.

During the Perth International Festival of Hockey, China's first encounter with Australia ended in a 2-2 draw on April 21. Zou Meirong and Chen Yang gave China a 2-0 lead at halftime but it was then offset by Australia in the second half.

On Tuesday, Perth Hockey Stadium saw China deliver a commanding 4-0 victory over Japan. The Chinese team secured seven penalty corners in the span of 60 minutes, while their opponents failed to earn any.

After the match, Annan told Xinhua that it was "the best game", as the Chinese girls dominated in the first round and the game went in their way. "We were consistently good and that's what we want to be," said the head coach.

"Each individual has become a better hockey player in the last year," she observed, noting that the players spent "more time than ever" watching footage to increase their knowledge, and trained hard to enhance their fitness.

"Statistically, we're getting more circle penetrations and more shots at goal, while the oppositions are getting less. And that's what we're looking for," said Annan.

With the test series progressing to its second round, China fought back from 1-2 down to beat Australia 3-2 in Wednesday's match, which resulted in China climbing up to seventh place in the FIH standings.

A well-orchestrated pass from the right wing found Chen on the far post, whose easy finish helped China level the score at the crunch time.

"We had already defeated Australia earlier this year. Before today, we had three matches against them, including a win, a defeat, and a tie. I feel that as we secure more victories, our confidence grows stronger," said the 27-year-old Chen.

On Saturday night, China trounced Japan once again with convincing a 4-1 triumph. Nine penalty corners and one penalty stroke were awarded to the Chinese players, with Gu Bingfeng and Chen scoring two goals apiece.

"We started slow. We let them get into the play a little bit too much. But then we took control of the game. We moved the ball around, and we worked hard, and we were connected. We are a very good team and you can see that tonight and the result," Annan said after the match.

With less than 100 days to go before the Paris Olympics, Annan revealed that the entire team has set their sights on a medal.

"We have everything to win at the Olympic Games. We have nothing to lose. Teams are watching us now. They're thinking 'Okay, China's very good now'. Two years ago, they didn't think that. That is also a big step that other teams are paying attention to us, analyzing us, and watching the way we play," said the head coach.

"We're doing everything possible to try and create that dream. It is a difficult task. But we're not getting pressured by anything. We're growing each day and we're learning," she added. ■