China striker Han Duan is the darling of her native China. Scoring in the 72nd minute against the Swedes on Wednesday in Tianjin, she put the match beyond doubt and ensured the hosts started their campaign with a full three-point haul.
Any match-winner would have done for the nearly 40,000 fans in attendance at the Tianjin Olympic stadium, but Han Duan, a technically gifted striker with an oft-overlooked aerial prowess, pulled a peach of a goal to settle the affair. Collecting a pass on the left side of the box, she nearly knocked the stuffing out of the ball with her left foot.
"That goal is a huge boost to my confidence," the veteran of two FIFA Women's World Cups told FIFA.com. "We did well and now we need to continue to improve and play good attacking football."
The predominantly right-sided player was especially pleased to have used her weaker foot to score the critical goal. "Did you see that I used my left foot?" she asked jokingly. "I have been practicing a lot and trying to become a more two-footed footballer. It's not as good as my right yet, but at least it worked when I needed it to."
In prime physical condition, the 25-year-old is also one of the most experienced players in a fresh-faced Steel Roses squad, having figured prominently with the team in the last two FIFA Women's World Cups and the previous Olympics in Athens. She likes to describe these Games on home soil as her first "big" tournament as a key figure.
"I only played once as a substitute at USA 2003, and in the last Olympic Games I made only two appearances, including playing the first half in the opening game against Germany, which ended in a disastrous 8-0 defeat," she reflected. "At last year's World Cup, I started in every game but I was not in my best shape. So I hope this Olympic tournament will be the start of a new chapter."
Tough tests ahead
Despite the hard-fought opening-day victory, Han Duan admitted the match was an even contest that could have gone either way.
"After the opening 30 minutes the Swedes hit back hard and they made life difficult for us - they proved they are still a team to respect," she said. "But we played as a united team throughout, and it was the fighting spirit that carried us through."
"Sweden are one of best teams in Europe but they are also physically stronger than us. Next we play Canada, another physically strong team We will need to rely on our skill and teamwork."
With her leadership and her nose for goal, Han Duan has instilled a sense of belief in a Steel Roses side that was hit hard by injuries to key players Ma Xiaoxu and Qu Feifei on the eve of the Beijing Games, and she is hoping the team can continue to make the home crowds roar with excitement and pride.
"I just hope that I can maintain my form, and help my country win more games here at the Olympics."