It is perhaps too long since China PR, one of the world's pioneers in the women's game, last made an impact on the international scene. The Steel Roses have made few impressions since they finished as runners-up at the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup USA™.
Despite this, Gao Hong, who figured significantly as custodian throughout as China took the aforementioned competition by storm, believes the traditions of the golden generation can be passed on to the youngsters.
"The feats by the old are legacy for the youth," Gao, who was appointed the head coach of China's U-16 side in April, told FIFA.com prior to the kick-off of the AFC U-16 Women's Championship, which also serves as the continent's qualifier for next March's FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup in Costa Rica. "Spirit and ambitions can be inherited and traditions will always provide the young players with inspiration."
Self-belief is anything but lacking for Gao, who was renowned for her supreme confidence and superb reflexes between the posts during her playing career. However, the former China and New York Power No1 is all too aware what tasks are facing her side as China target their second appearance at next year's global showpiece.
The Asian qualifying, which is staged in China's Nanjing from 26 September to 6 October, features two former world champions in Korea DPR and Korea Republic. Also involved are Japan, who impressed in each of the past three U-17 Women's World Cups including their run to the final in Trinidad and Tobago in 2010.
In addition, this edition marks the largest competition in history, featuring twelve teams, divided into four groups of three. The four section winners advance to the last four, where the two finalists and the winners of the third-place play-off progress to the FIFA tournament.
"Our Asian opponents are so strong that we can't afford to make any slip-ups", Gao continued, "but we can look to our home support and take heart from our successful qualification two years ago, when we also played on home soil. In competitive games anything can happen and we will take the games to the rivals."
The hosts open against an enigmatic Bahrain next Thursday, before taking on the ambitious Australia, who are seeking their first-ever qualification. China defeated the Matildas 3-0 in their previous qualifying meeting but Gao warned her side not to take the opponents lightly this time.
"The Australians can be tough," she explained, "both Australia men's and women's senior teams are strong in Asia and their junior sides are of good qualities thanks to their development schemes. The game against them could be decisive for the group. Besides, we can't underestimate Bahrain."
Favourites to face
Should the hosts win the section and progress, awaiting them in the semis are likely to be the formidable Korea DPR, the inaugural Women's U-17 World Cup winners and 2012 finalists who are the undisputed favourites in a group also featuring Chinese Taipei and Jordan. Though reiterating they should first focus on the group phase, Gao didn't hide her ambitions of springing a surprise against the neighbouring power.
"Korea DPR have skilful players,” she said. “They are famous for their never-say-die spirit. But we believe in our players who also possess good technique. Everyone may have a bit of an inferior complex against top teams but you can quickly get over that through your performances as long as you work hard. If we feel strong, we can demonstrate our capabilities."
Even if China lose, they still harbour hopes of winning the third-place play-off, possibly against the losers between Japan and Korea Republic. The former are expected to make light work of Iran and Guam in their group campaign while the latter should have few problems against Thailand and Uzbekistan.
"Both Japan and Korea Republic are world-class teams, but we have proved we are a competitive side," she said, referring to the team's overseas training camp in July in Germany during which they defeated six local women teams and held Frankfurt to a goalless draw. "The two-week camp was important for us to take stock of our side.
"As for the players, they have gained good international experiences from the friendlies. In short, we are prepared to mount a serious challenge (for the championship)."