Tuesday 18 November 2014, 08:08

Young Sun Wen shoulders high expectations

Having missed out on a place at the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup™ for the first time, China PR are, needless to say, aiming to redeem themselves heading into June's global showpiece at Canada 2015. While the neutral fans perhaps cast doubt over the Steel Roses' prospects, those following their game closely believe that the team boast talents capable of competing against the world's best.

One of these notable hopefuls is Yang Li, a young forward who has established her undisputed place in coach Hao Wei's line-up. Since receiving her first national call-up prior to February's four-nation International Tournament, the 23-year-old has figured both consistently and prominently for China. In fact, Yang Li has maintained such prolific form thus far that she has been likened to Sun Wen - China’s all-time scoring-great. But although media, as well as fans, have increasingly dubbed her as 'Young Sun Wen', Yang Li is happy to play down the comparison.

"I think that this is more than exaggerated (by media)," the softly spoken youngster told FIFA.com, "Sun Wen is such a legend that any of us is far from being qualified to reach her levels. We need to learn and develop in every aspect like techniques and vision.”

Having said that, the modest striker isn't without ambition. "I am young and I want to improve every day. I have the time for development and I have dreams to realise."

Unexpected rise In a sense, Yang Li's rise has been meteoric. The Jiangsu forward entered the February Four-Nation International Tournament as a fresh face but became one of the campaign's biggest revelations as China ended as champions. Yang Li had to sit out the opener against New Zealand but when she received a starting place in the second outing against Mexico, she duly rose to the occasion and seized the chance.

"I was lucky to get the starting chance" she recalled. "In fact, a team-mate was unavailable due to physical conditions so I was sent on as the replacement. I was happy that I scored a goal and my team won 3-1. I am grateful to my coach for giving me the opportunity."

She continued to feature in the closing match against Korea DPR as China won 1-0 to claim the title. Although she didn't find the back of the net, Yang Li caught the eye through her smart runs and vision. She went on to cement her place in Hao's squad for the Algarve Cup a month later and duly scored a match-winner against Norway. It came as a memorable goal which the scorer would cherish.

"It was one of the rare chances (against Norway)," she continued. "Li Ying made an excellent pass into the area and I immediately pounced on to the ball. The goalkeeper responded swiftly and made a diving save but I was a little faster than her and sent the ball home. She was so close (to stopping me).

"It was my first campaign against European rivals. They are much physically stronger than us but we proved capable of playing against them. The Algarve Cup provided us with experience and boosted our confidence. I hope that I can maintain my goal-scoring form and score goals in Canada next year."

If these friendly tournaments witnessed her emergence, then May's AFC Women's Asian Cup provided Yang Li with the chance to truly announce her arrival on the international scene. The scoring prodigy wasted no time in her first competitive competition as she finished the tournament’s joint top-scorer, alongside Korea Republic's established star Park Eunsun with six goals apiece, as China sealed their return to the Women's World Cup.

"It was the qualifier for the World Cup but I was not afraid," she said. "I am a youngster so I had nothing to lose against those established Asian stars. Our team prepared well so everyone was in fine form going into the competition. We proved a well-organised side.”

Aerial ability Without a doubt, the in-form striker will be closely marked by rivals in Canada next June but Yang Li, a fan of German midfielder Thomas Muller, won't rest on her laurels and aims to show her very best in front of the watching world.

"My strengths are my finishing ability. I have a good nose for goal so I usually capitalise on passes or clearances to score. Besides, I have good aerial strengths and a lot of my goals come from headers. I am looking forward to the World Cup and I will try my best no matter which teams we will play against.”