Italy head coach Milena Bertolini said her players are on a “mission” to help the country “discover and appreciate the women’s game” after they beat China to reach the Women’s World Cup quarter-finals.
The Italians are back on the biggest stage after a 20-year absence and victory over the Netherlands in the last eight on Saturday in Valenciennes will represent their best performance at international level.
“We really believe this side has allowed the women’s game to break new ground back home,” said Bertolini after the Italians scored a goal in each half to eliminate China, who had made the quarter-finals in three of the past five World Cups.
“We can see that from the viewing figures, what we see in the press and from the messages we receive from back home.
“Our game is different from the game we’re used to seeing [men’s football]. It’s full of values – sportsmanship and values you see in society day-in, day-out. I know cultural changes take a lot of time, but this team are able to break down some of those prejudices and they are enacting change
and that’s their mission.”
Forward Valentina Giacinti gave Italy an early lead when she turned in a loose ball from close range after Peng Shimeng parried Elisa Bartoli’s effort.
China enjoyed a resurgence before the interval but Italy sealed victory through Aurora Galli after half-time.
Galli, who replaced Cristiana Girelli in the first half, found the bottom corner from outside the area.
Le Azzurre dominated the early exchanges and Giacinti had a ninth-minute strike ruled out for offside before giving her side a deserved lead with her fifth goal in her past eight internationals.
Italy could have doubled their lead after the half-hour mark when winger Valentina Bergamaschi was played in over the top, but her fierce effort across goal was well saved by Shimeng.
That save from a keeper nicknamed the ‘Wall of China’ appeared to spark her side into life and they produced their first shot from inside the Italy area in the 41st minute and a further two before the break.
Liu Shanshan also fired in a volley from outside the area which was well saved by Laura Giuliani.
But Italy broke their resistance within five minutes of the restart as forward Galli picked up the ball the best part of 30 yards out and sent a right-footed shot past Shimeng and into the bottom corner.
China head coach Jia Xiuquan said: “We’ve done a good job but we need to do much better. We couldn’t win the game and I apologise to all the Chinese fans. We understood Italy very well and it was a good game. This is football, and whoever makes mistakes first, has to pay.
“The World Cup is a big stage and it makes us realize our shortcomings. We can’t dwell on the past or any past glories.”