China earned a controversial win over Haiti after each team’s respective super-sub changed the game for their side in an action-packed second half.
This clash became even more crucial when Denmark was defeated by England before kick-off on Tuesday night, blowing the race for the second Group D spot for the Round of 16 wide-open for the winner of this match-up at Adelaide’s Hindmarsh Stadium.
China’s tag as favourites of this encounter only got stronger when Haiti star Melchie Dumornay, off the back of an eye-catching performance against England, started the match on the bench as a precaution due to a knock she suffered in her previous match.
A strong presence in the stands by the Chinese fans reflected their team’s performance on the pitch which dominated the territory in the opening 25 minutes of the game.
Zhang Linyan’s industry in the midfield combined with the dominance of Wang Shanshan at the back to suffocate Haiti’s advances. In the Steel Roses’ front third, Lou Jiahui created problems for the Grenadiers whose resolute defending kept the scores level.
China was made to rue for not converting on its dominance when Zhang Rui challenged Sherly Jeudy for the ball in the 27th minute but collected the Haitian player high on the leg with her studs. After initially brandishing a yellow card, referee Marta Huerta only needed a brief look at the VAR monitor to reverse her decision and reduce China to 10 players.
Minutes after seeing her side go a player down, coach Shui Qingxia went to her bench, sacrificing lively forward Lou Jiahui and introducing Zhang Xin as the midfielder to retain her side’s shape.
Haiti grew into the game with an extra player, and the two sides entered the break level, with a tantalising second half approaching with everything to play for.
Both coaches played their cards off the bench during the break, Shui Qingxia summoning star player Wang Shuang off her bench to provide the quality her short-handed side required. Meanwhile, Nicolas Delépine saw an opportunity to claim three points and brought on Melchie Dumornay to get the best of the midfield battle.
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Minutes after the restart, Dumornay’s introduction seemingly swung the tie of the match in Haiti’s favour, with the midfielder instrumental in Haiti’s newfound retained possession of the ball and creativity going forward. Dumornay should have opened the scoring after the ball fell to her in the box but was thwarted by a spectacular reaction save by Yu Zhu.
As Haiti did in the first half, China weathered the storm and when its chance came it took it.
Wang Shuang showed that she does not need many passes to make a difference, and her pass found a free Zhang Linyan on the wing who was fouled in the box by Ruthny Mathurin after getting the best of the defender.
The referee’s decision was briefly reversed because of the assistant’s offside flag but a VAR check confirmed that Zhang Linyan was onside. The forthcoming penalty was cooly converted by super-sub Wang Shuang who ensured her impact on the pitch translated onto the scoreboard in the 74th minute.
As the match headed into the last 10 minutes of regulation time, the Steel Roses threatened to blow Haiti away, with another penalty shout waved off by the ref and VAR and Zhang Linyan heading over the bar from close range to keep the Grenadiers in the match.
The drama continued late in Adelaide when the referee pointed to the spot for the second time in the match, this time in Haiti’s favour after defender Chen Qiaozhu was adjudged to have impeded Roseline Éloissaint’s ability to compete for the ball.
Much to the delight of the Chinese contingent at Hindmarsh Stadium, the referee was summoned by the VAR to review her decision and concluded that the defender had not committed an offence, which saw the match restart with a drop ball to the goalkeeper.
Despite holding the lead, China’s inability to clear its lines did not make the nine minutes of injury time a comfortable experience for the partisan crowd.
To the dismay of Nicolas Delépine and his bench, the referee waved off two challenges in the Chinese box and even booked the French manager for his overzealous remonstrations.
China managed to hold on for an important victory which gives it an opportunity to qualify for the Round of 16 when it takes on Group D leaders England on Tuesday night at Hindmarsh Stadium.
While the Chinese team was understandably jubilant after the game, fullback Mengwen Li described the atmosphere her team’s fans in Adelaide as creating a “home-court” atmosphere.
Haiti coach Nicolas Delépine shared that he felt the match was “snatched” from his side, going on to share his frustrations about penalty calls in both of Haiti’s matches against England and China.
Despite feeling aggrieved, the coach did not make any excuses for his side’s performance which he called the primary reason for the loss.
Post-match Shui Qingxia shared that she started one of her star players in Wang Shuang on the bench because she viewed her as a “weapon” that she could utilise, a role she played to perfection after she was introduced.
China now faces a showdown against European Champions England in Adelaide, requiring a result in order to advance into the Round of 16. Haiti travels to Perth not only looking for its first FIFA Women’s World Cup goal, but for three points that could still provide a miraculous entry to the knockout stages of the competition, and with players like Melchie Dumornay it is a possibility that cannot be dismissed, as unlikely as it may appear on paper.