Two goals from China’s Hongxia Li were enough to see off a spirited Italy side and get China’s World League campaign off to a winning start here in London.
In a game which was more about attrition than fireworks, Li sprinkled some moments of genuine class onto proceedings to ensure her team took the three points.
China took the initiative early on and were unlucky not to lead after Mengyu Wang’s penalty corner came back off the post with Martina Chirico beaten. It wasn’t long however before China made the breakthrough. Li showed good close control and terrific composure to get round the outside on the right. She moved along the baseline and squeezed the ball in at the near post past the goalkeeper.
Italy tried to hit back and captain, Chiara Tiddi saw her bobbling shot scrambled clear by Yimeng Zhang. Italy’s willingness to commit bodies forwards almost proved their undoing as a mistake from Agustina Di Bernardo was seized upon by Xiayun Xi, but the China No.9 was wayward with her shot from the top of the D.
China changed their goalkeeper at half time, giving Ji Li a chance to show what she could do. Li was almost called into action straight away but Stefania Tosco shot wildly over the top after being put through by Valentina Braconi.
At the other end, Wang was yet again frustrated by the frame of the goal as her penalty corner this time crashed off the crossbar and away to safety. Tosco hit another fierce shot towards the near post, drawing a solid save out of Li.
Italy then managed to score their equaliser. Di Bernardo’s drag flick was scambled off the line but Valnetina Braconi looped the rebound in to make it 1-1.
There was hardly time for Italy to bask in the glory of their goal as China hit back to retake the lead. Again Li got round the outside, and again she forced home from near the baseline, dinking the ball over the goalkeeper. Li could have completed her hat-trick after a slaloming run into the D, only to be kept out by Chirico. There was still time for Elisabetta Pacella to find herself clean through, only for the goalkeeper to make a good stick save to snuff out the danger.
China can be pleased to have got off to a good start, although they will have to improve markedly if they are to trouble any of the big hitters in this competition. Italy will take a lot of positives from the game, not least the performance of captain Tiddi, who was excellent in the backline.
Both sides return to action tomorrow, with China facing off against Argentina and Italy against the USA.