Women of steel: China’s Roses offer fans footballing refuge as Super League takes a back seat during Olympic Games

After losing to hosts Brazil, the Steel Roses bounced back with a win over South Africa highlighted by Tan Ruyin’s long range screamer

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 August, 2016, 2:03pm
UPDATED : Monday, 08 August, 2016, 2:03pm

Chinese football fans were at a loose end this weekend with no league action, but that doesn’t mean there was nothing to watch. While many might still be disappointed that the men’s team are not gracing the current Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, there is much to keep them interested regardless.

The women’s team – who finished with a silver medal at the Atlanta games two decades ago – bounced back in style after their opening loss to hosts Brazil against South Africa.

And anyone who tuned in to see the Steel Roses will have been rewarded with Tan Ruyin’s long range screamer, which capped off a 2-0 victory for China.

The Chinese women play Sweden in their final group game on Tuesday, and victory will ensure they make it to the knockout stage, while even if they fail to progress, it won’t be the end of Chinese involvement in the tournament.

Aside from the 18 players on the Team China squad, each of whom plays for a Chinese club, there are four more footballers contracted to clubs in the Chinese National Women’s Football Championship on the Brazil squad.

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And if women’s football isn’t your thing, then you can still find a Chinese league link over in the men’s tournament with Guangzhou R&F’s Jang Hyun-soo the captain of the South Korean team that has thrashed Fiji and were unlucky to be held to a draw by Germany in a six-goal thriller as they look to improve on bronze at London 2012.

Meanwhile, Beijing Guoan’s Renato Augusto is one of the three overaged players in the Brazil men’s squad that’s hoping to finally win the country’s first Olympic gold for football.

As it happens the Brazilian might be back in Beijing sooner than he’d like. Brazil have struggled so far, playing out goalless draws with South Africa and Iraq – with the former Leverkusen man culpable of keeping the scores down against Iraq, most notably missing an open goal in injury time.

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He might be glad of a quick return to China, though, given that his own fans were booing him for much of the second half.

Renato Augusto was worried that his move to the Chinese Super League would damage his chances of being selected for Brazil, but that has not proved to be the case.

Aside from being among the 18-man squad for the Olympics, the midfielder was also part of the squad for this summer’s Copa America Centenario in the United States.

The Beijing Guoan man was one of a number of Chinese Super League players that turned out for their national teams in the tournament. He was joined in the Brazil squad by Shandong Luneng central defender Gil, while Hebei China Fortune’s Ezequiel Lavezzi was one of the stars of the show for Argentina before breaking his elbow in a freak fall during their semi-final win over the hosts.

Nowadays wherever there is a major international tournament there is Chinese involvement, even if China themselves are not playing. The same was true at the summer’s other festival of football, Euro 2016. Renato Augusto’s teammate in the capital, Burak Yilmaz, was one of the few bright spots in Turkey’s brief appearance in France, playing all three games and scoring one of the team’s two goals.

As disruptive as these international tournaments can be to the Chinese domestic league given that they take place during the middle of the season, it’s a credit to the Super League that it is now attracting the calibre of players that are not just in the squads, but the starting sides of major footballing nations and exactly the type of thing that the current investment in the game is aimed at.

You might even see these foreign faces in the shirt of Team China in the future. Reports earlier in the year suggested that the Chinese Football Association was controversially discussing taking a leaf out of Hong Kong’s book and looking into the possibility of naturalising foreign footballers to play for the national team.

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It certainly worked for Hong Kong based on the two draws they held big brother to in the most recent World Cup qualifying.

The chances of that are slimmer than anyone other than Guangzhou Evergrande lifting the domestic title, but whatever the future holds Chinese football and its influence has rapidly established itself as a fixture in the global game.

Whether that’s the Super League on Sky Sports, Zhang Yuning starring for Vitesse Arnhem in the Dutch Eredivisie, the Aston Villa versus Wolverhampton Wanderers derby in the English second tier being contested by two Chinese owned teams, or the same thing happening at the San Siro when AC Milan take on Internazionale, it seems that Xi Jinping’s plan is working.