1996: Steel Roses pip Brazil to first Olympic final

18 Jul 2021
  • China and Brazil met in an epic Women's Olympic Football Tournament in 1996

  • Steel Roses edged the opponents 3-2 in the first-ever WOFT semi-final

  • Legends Sun Wen and Fan Yunjie reflect on that landmark match

This Wednesday will see Group B's China PR and Brazil line up against each other at Tokyo 2020 in what is their third Women's Olympic Football Tournament meeting. The two sides had twice crossed paths in the global showpiece with the Steel Roses drawing first blood at Atlanta 1996 before A Seleção took revenge at Rio 2016. It is, however, their first Olympic meeting which holds a unique place in the women's game. Twenty-five years ago, on 28 July, this pairing were locked in a semi-final clash which would go down in history. It was the first time that women's football was included in the Olympics and this match pitted two of the world's fastest developing teams. In addition, this match-up featured some of the biggest names of the women's game, with FIFA Female Player of the Century Sun Wen, a young Formiga and star player Sissi among the most notable. In a sense, this contest had nearly all the elements which constitute a classic match - a seesaw battle, two red cards and a dramatic finale. Join FIFA.com as we look back at the epic encounter. Background China entered Atlanta 1996 on the back of a memorable 1995 FIFA Women's World Cup Sweden™ campaign where they finished in fourth place. They opened brightly with victories against Sweden (2-0) and Denmark (5-1) before holding hosts USA to a goalless draw and finish as group winners, setting themselves up against Brazil. Brazil, meanwhile, drew 2-2 against Norway before defeating Japan 2-0. In the closing group game, Sissi canceled out Pia Wunderlich's early goal as they held Germany to a 1-1 tie, a result which saw them progress at the European’s expense. Starting line-up China: GK: Gao Hong Defenders: Wang Liping, Fan Yunjie, Xie Huilin, Wen Lirong Midfielders: Zhao Lihong, Liu Ailing, Sun Wen, Shi Guihong Forwards: Shui Qingxia, Sun Qingmei Brazil: Goalkeeper: Meg Defenders: Tania,Tafarel, Elane Midfielders: Formiga, Sissi, Fanta, Cavalcante Forwards: Katia Silva, Pretinha, Roseli

1996 Olympic Games, Atlanta, USA, Sanford Stadium, Georgia, Women's Football, Semi Final, China 3 v Brazil 2, Brazil's Sissi battles for the ball with China's Ailing Liu (10) and Lihong Zhao (Photo by Bob Thomas Sports Photography via Getty Images)

The match China PR 3–2 Brazil Goals: Sun Qingmei 5, Wei Haiying 83, 90; Roseli 67, Pretinha 72 Tense battle With a place in the first Olympic final on the line, the tension was palpable. "I was unaware how significant this match would be in history," China's legendary defender Fan Yunjie told FIFA.com reflecting on the memorable game. "But looking back, this was one of the few games during my entire career which made me nervous. It was the first Women's Olympic Football Tournament and the high expectations placed us under pressure." Chinese dominance In a sense, it was a clash between China's teamwork and Brazil's individual talents. Sun Wen told FIFA.com how well-prepared they were. "We trained three times per day during the pre-tournament training," the CFA vice-president recalled. "I had a knee surgery only months ago and each day I finished training with swollen knees. But hindsight told us that our training efforts paid dividends." As it turned out, a well-drilled China looked the brighter side in the first half. They took the lead inside five minutes when Sun Qingmei unleashed a powerful drive which went into the top right corner. Brazil, for their part, hit back on break with Roseli nearly drawing level only to see her effort fly just over. Brazilian fightback Both teams were reduced to ten players in a fiercely-contested match. Brazil's Tania received her matching order minutes before the break after fouling Sun Wen for a second yellow card and China's defender Wen Lirong was red-carded just after the hour-mark for tripping Pretinha. With China failing to extend their lead, the Brazilians rallied to stage a powerful comeback midway through the second half. A rushing Roseli slotted the ball through goalkeeper Gao Hong's legs and into the net to draw Brazil level and five minutes later, Pretinha capitalised on a defensive error to put Brazil ahead All of a sudden, the game was tipped in favour of the Brazilians. "I saw their No8 player (Formiga) was almost ready to celebrate victory," Fan said. "We were very anxious and were desperate to get back into the contest." Super-sub Wei The Steel Roses didn't give up, however. They found the equaliser seven minutes from time when second-half substitute Wei Haiying tapped in from close range. The dynamic striker went on to round off their campaign with a last-ditch effort, completing a three-player combination in the area by shooting into the roof of the net. "When she (Wei) scored the match-winning goal, I hugged her and we knelt down on the grass celebrating," said Sun Wen. "I had a feeling of worship for her. We didn't think too much about the conceded goals and focused all attention on our play, trying hard and carving out several good scoring chances. It was our teamwork which carried us through." Did you know? In a sense, this match underlined the two teams’ status among the world’s powerhouses, a fact borne out in the next FIFA Women’s World Cup at USA 1999 where both featured in the last four. Brazil lost 2-0 to hosts USA while China routed holders Norway 5-0 to reach the Final, only to be edged out by the hosts on penalties. Sun Wen and Sissi, notably, finished as the joint tournament top-scorers with seven goals each.