Having realized the goal they set for the Olympics, Chinese women footballers are dreaming bigger in the City of the Future.
With a draw with Sweden here on Tuesday, China, dubbed "Steel Roses" for their second-place finish at both the 1996 Olympic Games and the 1999 World Cup, secured a berth in the quarterfinals for the first time since the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
"We were absent from the opening ceremony. We want to stay longer to attend the closing ceremony," said captain Li Dongna.
"We've achieved our goal for the tournament. Our endeavor has paid off. If we defeat Germany in the quarterfinals, I would be wild with joy," she said.
Their road to Rio was not easy. Neither is their path in China. After 650 days' hard training, the new generation of "Roses", with an average age of 23.5 then, defeated Netherlands 1-0 to snatch their first victory of Women's World Cup, and reached the last eight in Canada in 2015..
But the hard-earned result didn't bring rapid development of the sport to women footballers in the country. Compared to Chinese Super League clubs' money-splashing pursuit of foreign superstars, top-level China's Women Super League is still overlooked.
The national team was also shadowed by the resignation of the then head coach, Hao Wei, in August, 2015, after ending up at the bottom of the table with three straight loses at the EAFF Women's East Asian Cup 2015.
The silver lining finally shined when ex-French coach Bruno Bini took the reins in September, 2015. The second French coach in charge of the team, who had guided his home team to the fourth place at both the Women's World Cup in 2011 and the London Olympics in 2012, were determined to bring the "Roses" back to their former glory.
The 61-year-old Frenchman is like a father in the eyes of these Chinese young girls. He has united the team under the slogan "Together," and developed a strategy system with tactics emphasizing passing and ball control. He has even formulated a long-term goal for the team: to win the ticket to the Women's World Cup France 2019.
With Bini at the helm, China defeated four-time Olympic champion USA in a friendly match, ending the opponents' 104 consecutive victories at home.
What China impressed the fans most was their unbeaten campaign in the Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament in 2016, which booked their ticket to Rio. Reveling in physical confrontation, China broke Vietnam 2-0 to embrace its opening victory in the tournament, defeated Japan and South Korea, and drew with Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the eventual winner Australia.
"China become more aggressive. They used to wait for counter-attacks," said Brazilian coach Oswaldo Alvarez.
Despite a loss 3-0 to host Brazil in the first game on Aug. 3 in Rio, China beat South Africa 2-0 on Saturday and drew with Sweden 0-0 on Tuesday, thus entering the quarterfinal stage.
The "Roses" will play Germany on Friday in Salvador, east Brazil's port city.
"We've came this far. We want to win no matter how strong our opponent is," Li said.
"We don't have much advantage over Germany, but anything could happen," she added.
But the Chinese women eye more than one game or one tournament. They hope China fast-track the sport to cultivate more "Roses."
With an average age of 24.3, the current "Roses" are expected to be in their full bloom at the Women's World Cup France 2019 and the Tokyo Olympics 2020.
Chinese players should maintain consistency in order to become a stronger team in the sport, said Bini.