With Chinese fans desperately keen to begin the Men's Olympic Football Tournament on a high note, coach Yin Tiesheng vowed to open brightly against tournament debutants New Zealand on Thursday in Shenyang.
"We are now fully prepared for the tournament, and we are confident of reaching the second round," said Yin at a press conference on Tuesday. "The match with New Zealand is crucial for both sides, and we have to win if we are to achieve our goal."
The men's football competition at Beijing 2008 is only China's second appearance at the global event. At Seoul 1988, they had the unenviable record of being the only one of the 16 competitors to have finished without scoring a single goal. That stinging memory, however, has become the biggest motivation for the team to win back the fans' hearts with a strong start.
"We finished empty-handed last time, so we must work harder to satisfy our fans this time, not only with good results, but also with convincing performances," said team captain Zheng Zhi.
Over the past decade and a half, Yin has gained a reputation as a shrewd tactician. His most notable achievement is having taken the national junior side to second place at the 2004 AFC U-19 Championship; many members of that team have subsequently graduated to the current Olympic side.
His meticulous approach seems to be bearing fruit at U-23 level as well. Under Yin, the team has remained undefeated in four recent warm-up games, including a 1-0 victory over Australia, whose physical style is not unlike that of China's first-up opponents New Zealand. To get the team tactically prepared for the opening test, he has called them together to pick through video footage of some recent New Zealand games. "I think the players know our opponents better now," he said.
When quizzed on his own strategy against the Kiwis, however, the talkative coach suddenly turned taciturn. "I would rather keep it a secret until after the match!"
Despite his careful preparation, the experienced boss is adamant that the Chinese can afford no complacency in their group opener. "Brazil are the undisputed group favorites, so our chances will largely depends on the results against New Zealand and Belgium," he admitted. "New Zealand are a well-organized team and they are physically strong, so we can't underestimate them. But if we stay cool-headed and play at our best, we can definitely defeat them."