China beats South Africa 1-0 to set up decider vs. Spain

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China’s Li Ying celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the Women’s World Cup Group B soccer match between China and South Africa at Parc des Princes in Paris, France, Thursday, June 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

PARIS (AP) — China is back on track at the Women’s World Cup, tied for second in Group B after a 1-0 victory in South Africa, and focused on it goal of moving into the next round of the tournament.

China, evened with Spain at three points each, lost its opener but stayed calm in Thursday night’s second match as the squad tries to join group leader Germany in the last 16.

“We had a bigger stress, we could not afford to lose. This invisible stress was there and the players were able to overcome this stress,” China coach Jia Xiuquan said. “Their desire to win has impressed me most over the year. This gives me the courage to lead them. It is also a manifestation of their mentality.”

He thinks the pressure is somewhat off his players now and more on Spain, which is also trying to move on in the tournament.

“Spain is a very strong team and they have a traditional style similar to the men’s team,” he said. “Spain is stronger than we are so we don’t have a lot of stress. So I think (this) will give us a better performance. I hope the players can unleash their potential.”

Forward Li Ying put 1999 runner-up China ahead in the 40th minute with an opportunist effort. Meeting Zhang Rui’s right-wing cross, she got ahead of her marker and poked the ball into the bottom right corner.

China lost 1-0 to two-time champion Germany in its opening match. South Africa was beaten 3-1 by Spain and now has two losses.

“We knew it was going to be a battle out there but we also had our chances. Very proud of the team,” coach Desiree Ellis said. “Each player can pat themselves on the back after today’s performance. We pride ourselves on teamwork and togetherness.”

Forward Thembi Kgatlana scored against Spain and was South Africa’s most dangerous player against China, with a chance to equalize in the 76th.

Pouncing on a loose ball inside the left of the penalty area, her shot hit defender Lin Yuping near her right shoulder. There were calls for a penalty but no video review was done.

South Africa is the lowest-ranked team playing, but China worked hard for its win while keeping a close watch on Kgatlana. She made two strong runs in the first half, one down each flank, but her rushed passing let her down each time.

Kgatlana caused problems after the break with her speed and well-timed runs, although she was isolated and not adequately supported.

“Sometimes she’s too quick for her own good. She’s always a danger. But at times we couldn’t get the ball up to her more,” Ellis said. “We made poor decisions in the final third. We’re not clinical enough in front of goal.”

China will need to improve its finishing against Spain, for the miss of the game came from forward Gu Yasha.

She burst down the left and, after South Africa captain Janine Van Wyk slipped over, smacked the ball so wide it almost went out for a throw-in.

South Africa goalkeeper Kaylin Swart made two smart, late saves, the second a fine finger-tip effort from substitute Yang Li’s curling effort in the 90th.

The 48,000-capacity stadium Parc des Princes stadium was less than half full with 20,011 the attendance given. It has hosted three matches and only France’s opening game against South Korea was full.

China’s win also sent Group A leader France, which has six points, through to the last 16.

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