By Sportswriters Yue Dongxing and Ma Bangjie
FARO, PORTUGAL, March 13 (Xinhua) -- China's progress in their "possession football" is clearly seen at the 2013 Algarve Women's Football Cup but there are still lots of efforts to make if the 1999 World Cup runners-up aim to return to the top.
The better result and process than last year are the proof for their improvement. China stood sixth in the 12-team tournament after the 1-0 loss to Japan on Wednesday, bettering last year's ninth finish.
The eight-time champions, United States, extended their overwhelming advantages after a 2-0 victory over Germany in the final. It ensured them the ninth title and unchallenged status in the Cup's 20-year history.
ZERO SHOTS ENDED
Compared to last year's zero attempts at target in group stage, China earned an opening 1-1 draw with Sweden, which showed some fresh advancement in attacking and ball controlling especially in the first half.
Though losing to the United States 5-0 in the following match, the two-time winners of the Cup still prove they can insist on ball possession style against the world's best team. In the opening 16 minutes, China had three shots, bettering the USA's by one, and more time with ball than the opponents.
"I'm not surprised with what China did in the first 16 minutes. They have a good head coach to lead those young and hard-working players," said the American coach Tom Sermanni.
"If they can stick to this, they will have a good future."
The last group match was a big test for China in which they beat Iceland 1-0, ending two straight defeats to the opponent in the yearly tournament. It was also China's first group stage victory in recent three years at group stage.
"China's strength is improving absolutely than last year. They can move the ball and gain the momentum of the match," commented by Ragnar Eyjolfsson, Iceland's head coach.
Boosted by the victory, China had the chance to beat their Asian rivals Japan on Wednesday, if they could have capitalized on the two great chances in the first half.
Ma Xiaoxu, the 2006 Women Footballer of the Year in Asia, dashed into the Japan's area after a strategy corner-kick sent her free in 23rd minute. But the central forward's low shot was blocked.
The best chance for China came eight minutes later. The second striker Zhang Rui found space in the area but struck the ball wide past the post.
"In the first half, China showed good attitudes, stamina and quality of position," said Japan's head coach Norio Sasaki.
Japan gained the momentum in the last 45 minutes. Unmarked Yuki Ogimi scored with a powerful shot after a free-kick sent the far-post area clear.
"Our players today show they can get good results and keep developing," The Japanese coach added.
According to him, Japan only brought here two players who had played in the London Olympic final. One is Yuki and the other is their captain Saki Kumagai. The other players are looking to gain experiences.
However, China nearly brought six or seven first choice players in Algarve, according to Ma Xiaoxu.
"I think six or seven positions are fixed as you saw here," she told Xinhua.
The contrast proved the huge gap between China and the world's elite teams.
"In 2006, we can beat Japan if we perform well. But after the 2008, it's more difficult. They are progressing much more faster than us," said Ma.