Monday 27 December 2021, 23:00

Chinese Tang spurred on with Tottenham

• Tang scored four times to fire China PR to Tokyo 2020 • Forward has made progress since joining Tottenham Hotspur in July • She aims to help country through to Australia/New Zealand 2023 Partying with Tottenham Hotspur teammates; exchanging gifts and having a hot-pot meal with Celtic midfielder Shen Mengyu, her former Shanghai Agricultural & Commercial Bank FC mate. Chinese international Tang Jiali was in an upbeat mood celebrating her first Christmas overseas. What made her even more excited was, however, the news that she had recently received a national team call-up. Tang played a pivotal role in China PR's qualification to the Women's Olympic Football Tournament Tokyo 2020 but missed out on the global showpiece due to an injury. With her return to Steel Roses, though, Tang has now earned the chance to make amends in January's 2022 AFC Women's Asian Cup, which doubles as the qualifier for the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup Australia/New Zealand™. "This is what I am expecting," the 26-year-old striker told in a recent exclusive interview. "It is the dream of every player to play for their country."

China PR and Tottenham Hotspur F.C. Women forward Tang Jiali (L 2) celebrates Christmas Eve with team mates

China enters the Asian qualifier under new boss Shui Qingxia who is none other than Tang's former manager at Shanghai. With the Steel Roses legend in charge, she has no doubts that they will complete their qualifying mission and book China's eighth Women's World Cup qualification. "I hope we will make further progress and reach a new level under coach Shui," she went on. "I believe we will play well [at the Women's Asian Cup] and give our all. We will do our best and play to our style and strengths." A revelation of the China squad at Canada 2015, Tang exceled throughout in firing China to Tokyo 2020. She was on target four times during the qualifying, including scoring a spectacular goal against hosts Australia in a 1-1 draw which helped seal their place in the qualifying playoff.

China PR's Tang Jiali (front, C) competes during the second leg of Tokyo Olympic Asian qualification playoffs between China PR and Korea Republic

She went on to impress in the two-legged decider against Korea Republic, earning a spot-kick from which Wang Shuang scored the match-winner before blocking a dangerous shot by the rivals in the return match as China progressed after extra time. Despite missing the Olympics in unexpected fashion, Tang's eye-catching performances didn't go unnoticed by Tottenham Hotspur with the club signing her on loan in July. Despite playing overseas for the first time, Tang's adaption was fast. Having gone through a relatively quick acclimatisation, she made her debut in a Barclays FA Women's Super League match against Reading, coming off the bench to provide the assist for Jessica Naz to score the only goal. Then came her first goal against Charlton. "The atmosphere here is amazing," she said of her new club. "Our fans will show up in every match to support us. I prefer to play in a stadium full of supporters. I really enjoy playing in front of our fans who cheer us on.

"I have not got accustomed to everything here yet but I have gradually adapted to the new environs, so things are getting better day after day. I am impressed by people around me as everyone treats me warmly with help and care." The competition for a place in the starting line-up is tough in a team which features the likes of Canadian international Shelina Zadorsky, Australia striker Kyah Simon and Korea Republic captain Cho Sohyun. For Tang, there is always much to learn from these high-profile teammates. "They are good-quality players. Here [in England], they play at a faster pace and the physical confrontation is tough. I need to up my tempo and observe more carefully and decide when and where to attack." In order to make faster progress, Tang took time to watch the Spurs men's team to draw further inspiration. "I went to the stadium to watch several games by the men's side, of course as a fan. It was almost full-capacity and the fans were great. The switch from defence to attack is so swift and the physical play is impressive."

With the Asian qualifiers just around the corner, Tang is aware what tasks they are shouldering. The Steel Roses open their campaign against Chinese Taipei on 20 January before facing IR Iran three days later. The group closing game pits them against ambitious hosts India who are seeking to seal their maiden FIFA Women’s World Cup qualification. “There are no easy games in Women’s World Cup qualifying. But we can earn the results we want as long as we maintain our performance levels,” she concluded.