Big days for Beijing's baby
© AFP

She set up Xu Yuan with a superb through ball for the equaliser against Canada, but Lou Jiahui still rues the one that got away. While her Chinese team-mates all seemed reasonably happy with the 1-1 draw against a superior-looking Canadian outfit, Lou's lamentable miscue in the 70th minute of the game in Tianjin on Saturday is still weighing on the teenager's mind.

"I missed the chance largely because of my lack of experience at this high a level," she told FIFA.com about the time she hit over with only Canada keeper Erin McLeod to beat. "I played with too much enthusiasm and too hard in the first half and forgot to save some energy for the second. I ran out of gas."

Lou can be forgiven for her youthful indiscipline. At just 17, she is the youngest player at the Women's Olympic Football Tournament (only one on the men's side is younger, the Ivorian Christian Okoua). She was called in for game against Canada as a last-minute replacement for injured ace Han Duan, who scored the winner in China's opener against Sweden.

"I hadn't expected to start the game so it came as a happy surprise for me." Lou went on, discussing the tactical move by coach Shang Ruihua that left local fans scratching their heads at the start of the match. "I think we played fairly well in the first half and we created a few chances."

Lou to the rescue
What before had been a light and noisy atmosphere in the Tianjin Stadium became suddenly silent when, on 34 minutes, Canada's top all-time scorer Christine Sinclair swivelled in the box and slotted past Zhang Yanru to give the visitors a lead.

Just three minutes later, young Lou, unfazed by her lack of experience, made her mark on the game, creating a gorgeous equaliser. "Pu Wei sent me clear and when I played the ball down the right, I saw Xu Yuan in front so I tried to lay the ball into her path as she ran toward goal.

"It was an absolutely thrilling moment when I saw the ball cross the goal line," she said, recalling the shot which was nearly kept from crossing the line by Canada's Randee Hermus.

Lou's all-around talent was discovered early in childhood when she was recruited by a local sports school in her home town in Henan Province. A serious arm injury later brought her career as a javelin thrower to an abrupt end but opened a new chapter as a football hopeful at the age 12.

"I think I have a natural feeling for the game because I scored a goal in my first-ever game, even before I knew the rules!" She recalled with a wry smile.

Shang prodigy
Her talents didn't go unnoticed as she was soon called into the national youth programme, eventually being brought into the senior fold by coach Shang. Once there she found a role model in the shape of team mate Han Duan.

"Had Han Duan not got injured, I would never have had a chance to start. For me, she is just a brilliant striker and the perfect example to follow," admitted the youngster with humility.

"The next game against Argentina will be crucial for us as only three points can secure our place in the last eight," she concluded. "Whether I start or act as a sub, I will do everything I can to help my team!"

With a hatful of in-form forwards to choose from, coach Shang finds himself with the kind of problem most coaches only dream about.