Magical Ma's eyes on the prize
Few players succeed in making an indelible mark on a world championship, and still less can claim to have essentially defined one of football's global events. There have, though, been a few notable exceptions.
Lionel Messi managed it at last year's FIFA World Youth Championship, Marta likewise in the previous edition of the this particular tournament and, famously, the biggest stage of all was dominated in 1986 by a certain Diego Armando Maradona.
Here is Russia, we have a player on the cusp of joining that elite group. All that is left for Ma Xiaoxu in Sunday's final is to provide a fittingly fantastic finale to a tournament in which China PR's captain's exceptional, intelligent performances have done much to fill the void left by Marta's much-mourned absence.
However, for all that she is currently the obvious frontrunner for both the Golden Shoe and Player of the Tournament awards, Ma assured FIFA.com that only claiming the world championship trophy itself will ensure that this potential trio of titles takes on any personal significance.
She said: "The MVP and Golden Shoe awards are very attractive and I hope I can make sure of being top scorer with a goal on Sunday. I also definitely wish to be the MVP once again (she claimed this title at the recent senior AFC Asian Women's Cup) and hopefully I will have done enough to achieve that.
"But football is a team sport and, for me, China must win this trophy. If we don't win against Korea, I cannot possibly be satisfied."
Ma, of course, is speaking from experience here, having been a losing finalist when China were well beaten by Germany at the climax of Thailand 2004. Much, however, has changed in the two years since, and the team's current talisman - who was introduced as a 74th-minute substitute against the Germans - believes that her own subsequent development exemplifies the strides taken by the team.
"I remember that final well," she said, "but it doesn't concern me because I know that Chinese team was not as good as this one. We were actually quite lucky to get to the final in Thailand and the result was fair because the German team was much stronger than us. This time, we have more experience and ability, so I'm sure there will be a different outcome."
The scourge of Korea DPR
With Ma in their line-up, the Chinese have every right to be bullish about their prospects, certainly if their captain's recent history against opponents Korea DPR is anything to go by.
After all, the two countries have clashed twice in competitive action over the past five months, first in the final of the AFC Asian U-19 Women's Cup and then in the semi-final of the senior equivalent: both matches ended 1-0 in favour of the Chinese - and no prizes for guessing the lone goalscorer.
"Does it surprise me to see them in the final? Yes, I have to say it does," Ma said of the Koreans. "I didn't expect them to beat Germany in their first match either, so they have definitely done a good job to get here.
"But I think you will see a better performance from China (than against the USA) and I am very confident that we will win the title."
Ma's coach, Shang Ruihua , appeared similarly confident in the aftermath of his side's fortuitous penalty shoot-out win over the US, revealing then that he would be telling his players they had already "faced their most difficult situation" at Russia 2006. The captain, too, evidently feels that China have climbed the proverbial mountain by ousting the favourites, and considers her team well equipped to beat the Koreans in the race for the summit.
"Although we beat the US, they played really very well and probably showed themselves to be the better team," she admitted candidly. "I do not think we will face a stronger opponent. At the end of the tournament, I am sure we will look back on that as our toughest game."
'I thought it was all over for us'
For Ma, the 120 minute-long encounter was draining in every sense of the word.
Twice, she was stretchered off for treatment, and aside from the physical toll that that 10 competitive games in 40 days has inevitably taken, there was the veritable rollercoaster of emotions she endured during the shoot-out, when the teenager feared she'd handed the US victory by missing China's fifth kick only to be handed a dramatic reprieve by Brittany Bock and Lauren Cheney's subsequent failures.
So shot were Ma's nerves after it all, in fact, that she was to be seen weeping inconsolably as her team-mates celebrated. "I know that my reaction might have seemed strange, as we won the game," she explained, "but I had thought that it was all over for us when I missed. It was our last shooting chance and, if the US team had scored, I would have lost us the game. I actually couldn't watch (Bock) taking her penalty because I felt so bad."
All's well that ends well, of course, and with a first world title and yet more personal honours now within touching distance, it is refreshing to see that Ma still views herself as a work in progress, with a starring role on home soil at next year's FIFA Women's World Cup the next target.
"I know I have the willpower to keep playing at a high level and remain a very important player for my country," she said. "I am a stronger player than I was last year and, by 2007 and the World Cup, I know I will be even better."
Today Russia, tomorrow the world. If Ma lives up to her promise, women's football is sure to have a new superstar.