- Associated Press - Saturday, June 20, 2015

EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) - It was abundantly clear on both sides of the ball: China’s defense is the reason the team is headed for the quarterfinals.

Wang Shanshan, listed as a defender but playing at forward for the match, scored early and China’s defense held on to stay alive at the Women’s World Cup with a 1-0 knockout-round victory over upstart Cameroon on Saturday.

China, ranked No. 16 in the world, will play the winner of Monday night’s game between the United States and Colombia. A number of players from the U.S. team watched the match at Commonwealth Stadium.

“This goal was important,” Wang Shanshan said of scoring in the 12th minute. “It gave us the upper hand early in the game.”

And then the defense took over.

China was playing without its head coach Hao Wei on the sidelines, after he was sent off from the team’s final group stage match against New Zealand.

Cameroon, No. 53, was the lowest ranked of the 16 teams that advanced to the elimination round. Many players remained on the field sobbing after the final whistle.

“We knew that if we did concede a goal, it was going to be difficult for us,” Cameroon coach Enow Ngachu said afterward, acknowledging China’s organized defense.

China advanced to the knockout stage by finishing second to host Canada in Group A. After falling 1-0 in the opener to the Canadians on Christine Sinclair’s penalty kick in second-half stoppage time, China beat the Netherlands and played to a 2-all draw with New Zealand.

A ref ruled Hao interfered with New Zealand’s Ria Percival on the sideline as she attempted to throw in the ball and ejected him from the match. Because of the ejection, Hao had to part from his team once they arrived at the stadium. He watched from the stands.

Assistant Chang Weiwei stood in for Hao on the sideline.

“They put on a spectacular performance; spectacular, resilient and brave,” Chang said about the team. “They are like warriors, fighting like warriors for over 90 minutes.”

Wang Shanshan took a feed from Li Donga off a corner kick and popped the ball past Cameroon goalkeeper Annette Ngo Ndom for the only goal of the game. She later says she naturally plays at forward, but the Chinese team needed her as a defender for the World Cup.

Wang Lisi, who came into the match with a team-leading two goals in Canada, charged in on Ngo Ndom in the 50th minute, but stumbled and her kick went wide. Her stoppage time goal gave China a 1-0 victory over the Netherlands in the opening round.

Ngo Ndom came far out of the goal in the 60th minute and it almost cost her when another shot from Wang Shanshan got past her, but the ball rolled just wide.

Cameroon pressured in the final minutes. Gaelle Enganamount, with her distinctive blond hair, looked to challenge China goalkeeper Fei Wang but couldn’t connect. Sub Henriette Akaba’s header in the 87th minute sailed off the mark.

“As we said, our biggest weapon is based on a strong defense, creating more scoring opportunities,” said midfielder Ren Guixin, who was named the player of the match.

There was a scary moment in stoppage time when Han Peng collided with a Cameroon player and the two knocked heads. The collision caused a cut on Han’s head, which trainers taped before leading her from the field. She returned to play the final few moments and Chang said she would be examined further after the match.

Faced with the prospect of facing the Unites States - if the Americans can beat the Colombia - Ren said the Chinese had already gained confidence by making it to the quarterfinals.

“We are in the top eight now, we have a huge burden lifted off our shoulder,” Ren said. “We believe in ourselves, we will become even more aggressive in our next match.”

Cameroon, runner-up at the 2014 African championship, was making its first-ever appearance in the World Cup. The Lionesses were just the second African team to advance to the knockout stage after Nigeria in 1999.

In the group stage, Cameroon defeated Ecuador 6-0 before falling to Japan 2-1. But they pulled off a hard-fought 2-1 victory over No. 19 Switzerland in the group finale in Edmonton.

China has played in the World Cup six times, but missed out four years ago in Germany. The Steel Roses have never won a title, but they made the final in 1999, only to be defeated by the United States on penalty kicks at the Rose Bowl.

Cameroon came into the match with yellow cards on six of its players.

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