Only the best will do, says Zhang
Over the remainder of Russia 2006, many expect Zhang Yanru to confirm the widely-held belief that she is the world's most accomplished goalkeeper at this level. The Chinese no. 1 unashamedly admits to sharing this expectation.
Indeed, while Elvira Todua , her opposite number in tomorrow's quarter-final clash with hosts Russia, is viewed as her principal rival, Zhang's token attempt at diplomacy fails to disguise a rock-solid belief in her own abilities.
"I have respect for all my opponents," she told FIFA.com. "But I very am confident of proving that I am the best goalkeeper in this competition."
Arrogance? You would certainly be forgiven for believing so. Yet Zhang's confidence is most certainly of the quiet variety, with these bullish statement uttered in the softest tones by a player whose bashful manner is not that of someone given easily to empty boasts.
In truth, the 19-year-old has every right to blow her own trumpet. After all, though a consistent, reliable goalkeeper is worth his or her weight in gold at every level of the beautiful game, they tend to be a little thinner on the ground in women's youth football - and Zhang currently sets the standard to which the rest aspire.
Tall, strong and agile, her equally notable mental attributes can perhaps be best judged by the remarkable role she played in the recent AFC Asian Women's Cup success of China PR's senior side in Adelaide. There, having played second fiddle to Han Wenxia for much of the tournament, and with Han fit to continue, Zhang received the call to prepare for action at the end of extra-time - in the final no less - and duly produced two superb penalty saves to deny Australia the crown on home soil.
Here in Russia, she came crashing back down to earth with a bump after her campaign began in almost-comical fashion when she was beaten inside the opening minute of the opening match - and by her own player, Yuan Fan. This, however, is not a goalkeeper easily flustered, and the 269 minutes since have passed without the Thailand 2004 veteran being seen to put a foot wrong.
"To have gone so long without conceding beyond my expectations and I must say that my defence has done an outstanding job," she said. "We do have a very strong defence and a strong team, that's for sure, but then our country does have quite a large population… "
Smiling at her tongue-in-cheek observation that pairing a country of 1.3 billion against the likes of Finland "seems unfair", Zhang is nevertheless deadly serious about her team's ambitions in Russia, particularly with painful memories of defeat to Germany in the previous edition's final still fresh. So, two years on, how well equipped does she feel China's Class of 2006 are to go one better than their predecessors.
"This team, for me, is definitely better than the one we had in Thailand," is her immediate response. "Certainly, there is no doubt it is more offensive. It's hard to compare sometimes, but I do feel that this is a team with better qualities that the one I played in two years ago, especially going forward.
"Will we win the title this time? Yes, I don't see that being a problem. But we can only try our best and hope that that is good enough."
Russia 2006's top player?
It may be over-simplifying slightly, but it is difficult to escape the conclusion that what has changed in those two years can be summed up in two words: Ma Xiaoxu .
Russia 2006's leading scorer was just 16 and still making her way in the game when she travelled to Thailand, whereas now the Dalian Shide striker is firmly established among the hottest properties in the women's game and appears to grow in stature with every passing game. For Zhang, where Ma is concerned, every word of hype is fully justified.
"Everyone can see the influence she has on our team," Zhang said of her captain. "She is a player who makes good use of the ball, is intelligent and who almost always takes her chances. I know a lot of people think that she is the best player at this tournament, and I must say that I agree with that opinion."
No team, in fact, has yet managed to prevent Ma scoring in this competition, although the Russians will certainly hope to offer a step-up in class when the sides lock horns tomorrow evening. Nonetheless, if the hosts are pinning their hopes on the Chinese being unnerved by a noisy home crowd, they would be well advised to make a hasty return to the drawing board.
"For me, the more fans there are, the more I enjoy it," enthused Zhang, her excitement evident. "I am sure the crowd will be supporting the Russian team at the start, but I hope that they will be admirers of the Chinese team by the end."
That end may come after 90 minutes, of course, but there is also the lingering possibility that the match could require to be decided in most tense and dramatic manner possible, with a penalty shoot-out.
"Oh no, I hope not!" was Zhang's response to the suggestion. "I hope very much that the game will be over in 90 minutes, and that China will have won… But of course, if it does go to penalties, I would be confident of doing well."
With Zhang, what else would we expect?