The FIFA Women's World Cup 2007 is just round the corner and, contrary to the autumn weather now arriving in China, the atmosphere is gradually heating up at the five host venues of Wuhan, Chengdu, Tianjin, Hangzhou and Shanghai.
Having travelled from far and wide to bid for glory at China 2007, the 16 participating teams have now all set up camp in their respective host cities. Already the players are shaking off their jet lag and are raring to go as the tournament prepares to kick off. While some sides are busy training, others are actively acclimatising to their new conditions and surroundings.
It would not be a surprise if the first thing to have struck the players of each nation were the warm welcome and generous hospitality they have received from the host country. After all, having already staged the FIFA Women's World Cup once before - the inaugural edition back in 1991 - China's involvement with the tournament goes back a long way.
Wuhan: all eyes on Marta
Of all the host cities at this year's tournament, Wuhan has become the centre of attention following the arrival of two of the tournament's more fancied teams, Brazil and Denmark. All eyes are on Brazil's exciting young talent Marta who, along with the host nation's Steel Roses, received a rapturous reception from local football fans and the Chinese media.
With Brazil already billed as China's main rivals for qualification from Group D, newspapers and television stations in Wuhan have been running in-depth reports on Jorge Barcellos' team. Football magazine introduced the South Americans with the words: "Brazil women's burning ambition: to finish on top of the world."
Northern European heavyweights Denmark are also receiving their fair share of attention. Upon arrival at their hotel the Danes were greeted by the familiar chords of a well-known Danish pop song, 'Cool girls of Denmark'. The song seemed to lift the players after their long journey, because no sooner had they deposited their luggage than they headed straight off for their first training session.
As one of the youngest head coaches at this year's tournament, Denmark's 36-year-old Kenneth Heiner-Moller is clearly eager for success. And although his side lost the last of their three warm-up matches, the coach was in bullish mood as he faced the media: "These matches have helped us to finalise our starting 11 and I have no doubts that the players will go out and perform." Following the arrival of the New Zealand team on 5 September, Wuhan became the first host city to welcome all four of its guest teams.
Hangzhou: Ghana working hard
Following several days of rain, the weather in Hangzhou has finally begun to cool. Even so, Group C contenders Ghana are showing just how seriously they are taking the tournament, having already set up camp here over a week ago. Skipper Adjoa Bayor is low-key about his team's chances of qualification: "Nobody expects much of African teams; in fact, Norway and Australia are probably the group favourites." Even so, he is convinced his players can hold their own when it matters: "It's out on the pitch that the winners and losers are decided."
Traditionally strong contenders Norway are also adopting a cautious and conscientious approach, setting straight to work on their fitness at the Yuhuang Mountain training ground. Despite the drizzle and muggy weather, the players were particularly impressed by Hangzhou's stunning scenery as they made their way to their training camp. As for Norway's Group C rivals, Australia and Canada, the two squads have only just landed in this picturesque Chinese city, reaching their respective camps on 6 September.
Chengdu: mystery tourists arouse curiosity
As the only host city located in western China, Chengdu is no less vibrant than the other four destinations as it gears up for the tournament kick-off. Although Korea DPR represent one of China's strongest rivals from the Asian continent, their presence has far from dampened the enthusiasm of the city's football fans and media.
A crowd of local journalists gathered at the airport to report on the team's arrival late on 4 September. In order to ensure that the first squad to arrive in Chengdu were well protected, the city police department provided them with an armed escort of six officers and has also assigned a female officer to accompany the players throughout the tournament.
Though usually a man of few words, Korea DPR head coach Kim Kwang-Min had several things to say about his team's expectations for the event - including that the Koreans were far from overawed by their formidable opponents in their first Group B match, USA. Their attention was solely focused on their own training and preparation, he explained, while maintaining that his side will rely on their customary die-hard spirit and philosophy of all-out attack.
Shanghai: Argentina tipped for glory
As the first of the Group A teams to arrive in Shanghai, England have quickly made themselves at home. Accompanied by a sizeable following of family members, Hope Powell's players have had opportunities to relax and spend time sampling the city's restaurants and shops.
Meanwhile in the German camp, the steely resolve of the reigning world champions is reflected in the bold words of head coach Silvia Neid, who told reporters: "Winning the trophy is our only option." On arriving at the airport, the players lost no time in sizing up their surroundings, heading from the airport straight to the city's Hongkou Stadium for a quick look around.
South American title-holders Argentina appear comparatively laid-back as they gear up for their tough opener with Germany. The team's promising young striker Maria Potassa is already attracting a flurry of attention from the nation's more knowledgeable football fans and the Chinese media fully expect the linchpin forward to transform the Albiceleste into the tournament's surprise package, thereby emulating the achievements of Group A rivals Japan in the last edition. Already many Chinese magazines are featuring in-depth analyses of each teams' strengths.
Although all of their group matches will take place in Chengdu, CONCACAF champions USA have been holding their training sessions behind closed doors in Shanghai. The star-studded squad have certainly excited the curiosity of local football fans and the media, who have tracked the players' every move since their recent arrival. The level of interest should only get higher as the tournament unfolds.