During the Official Draw for the Youth Olympic Football Tournaments back in May, China PR head coach Lu Yiliang and general manager Zheng Chaoyong gave several interviews to FIFA.com and the two names they mentioned most were Zhao Yujie and Jin Kun. At a time when the Chinese team was still shrouded in mystery, captain Zhao Yujie was already a shining star having been named MVP at the AFC U-13 Girls’ Football Tournament two years ago. Jin Kun’s talent remained under wraps for the time being, however.
"[Jin Kun] is in great shape," said Zheng Chaoyong told FIFA.com three months ago, "Lu and our coaching staff took a shine to her straight away. Given time, with proper training and personal effort, she is certain to become a top player."
Here at the Girls’ Youth Olympic Football Tournament in Nanjing, Jin Kun has finally been giving fans at the Wutaishan stadium a glimpse of her true potential. In the opener against pre-tournament favourites Mexico, who fielded two veterans from the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup in Costa Rica, Jin Kun overwhelmed the North Americans with her probing wing play, causing them problems with almost every touch of the ball.
First she provided an assist for Zhao Yujie to break the deadlock, before helping herself to a smartly taken strike that clinched a 2-0 victory. In the hosts’ final group game, Jin Kun bagged her second goal of the games to help China PR to a 10-0 win over Namibia and reach the semi-finals as group winners.
"Jin Kun has come on in leaps and bounds recently," the normally understated coach Lu Yiliang told FIFA.com after that second fixture. "In terms of her technique and awareness she has improved a fair bit. She used to be able to rely on her physique to batter the opposition and create lots of scoring opportunities, but came up short in front of goal. Now she is more mature, so the goals are coming."
Following in Zhao Lihong’s footsteps
In many ways Jin Kun resembles former wing maestro Zhao Lihong, a distinctive member of China PR’s golden generation in the late nineties, whose lung-busting incursions down the left flank were a potent weapon in the Steel Roses’ arsenal. As a mainstay during the heyday of the Chinese senior team, Zhao played a leading role in their march to the silver medal at the Women’s Olympics Football Tournament Atlanta in 1996 and a runners-up place in the FIFA Women's World Cup 1999™ in the United States.
"Jin Kun has a few of Zhao Lihong’s characteristics," said Lu Yiliang. "Her speed and incisive running are very important to us as a team. A good team must have its own distinctive characteristics and the same is true for any good player. "
But despite having become one of the first names on the team sheet, Jin Kun was a late starter compared with the rest of the squad. Lu Yiliang recalls her rise to first-team regular:
"To be honest, the coaching staff really put a lot of effort into Jin Kun," the Chinese taskmaster continued. "When we first saw Jin Kun three years ago, we were impressed by her excellent physical condition, but she still didn’t know how to play football then. We developed a training programme specifically for her, as well as placing strict demands on her, of course. Finally, through hard work, she has now secured a place in the team."
"Girls aren’t the same as male players, you know, they can be a bit short-tempered at times," added the junior Roses coach, “so our coaching staff managed Jin Kun in a different way to the boys’ team. I’m very satisfied with Jin Kun and her performance in these two games, I hope she can go from strength to strength."
Jin Kun is undoubtedly an ace up the coach’s sleeve for the semi-final against Slovakia. In the two group games the winger adopted a roving role, popping up not only on both flanks but also in an advanced midfield position. So what position will Jin Kun adopt in the next game and what will her role be?
On this point Lu Yiliang remains tight-lipped: "When the game is over you will know," he said with a smile.