Eight years ago in Shanghai a shy 12-year-old watched on in awe from the stands in her hometown of Shanghai as Brazilian superstar Marta dazzled the world at the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup™. On Thursday in Edmonton those wide-eyed girlhood dreams and aspirations became reality as China PR’s Jiali Tang graduated to the big stage with an inspired performance on her Women’s World Cup debut.
Following a low-key 1-0 opening loss against Canada, the 1999 runners-up were desperate for both victory and a confidence boosting performance against Netherlands. Forthrightly stepping into the spotlight with all the precocious fearlessness of a youngster was 20-year-old Tang. The second youngest player on the China roster, the lithe and pacy forward brought a verve and energy that had been lacking in the team's opener against Canada.
Tang hit the crossbar with one sumptuous strike, just one of ten shots she fired at the Netherlands’ goal, including five on target – more than the entire Dutch tally. After the match Tang played down her influence when asked by FIFA.com about debut nerves as she stepped out to represent a nation of over a billion people on the world stage for the first time. “I was not nervous at all,” a smiling and laughing Tang said with the kind of relaxed air which suggested she was almost surprised at such a notion. “Hopefully I can play the next match and do a better job.”
China's welcome return
A point against New Zealand on Monday will likely be enough to advance to the Round of 16, while a win will guarantee their progression, possibly even as group-winner. Regardless of what happens Canada 2015 marks a welcome return to the world stage for one of the grand old names of women’s football after China - historically Asia’s best-performed team - surprisingly failed to qualify for Germany 2011. “The first match as the Opening Match meant there was extra pressure, but now we are relaxed. It was good but it is still not good enough.”
China coach Wei Hao was quick to hail Tang’s contribution as the Steel Roses seek to rebuild with what is a youthful side at Canada 2015. “She [Tang] played her role very well,” he said. “She has the strength within her and we have high hopes for her.
"These girls are under a lot of pressure and they were not relaxed enough [in the first game]. This team is very young and lacks international experience. However, they executed the game plan [against Netherlands] well and I’m delighted with their performance.”
After her star showing against Netherlands, Tang, who named Player of the Century Sun Wen as her favourite Chinese player, will likely have another opportunity to help China advance at Canada 2015. There could even be a meeting with Marta and Brazil.
“It was inspirational to watch Marta and the best players when I was young,” Tang said about her China 2007 memories. And could Tang be the Chinese Marta in the future? “Maybe, I will try to be.”