Not in the Olympic host's medal-taking plan, the low-profile Chinese women's hockey team stunned the world by grabbing the Olympic silver in Beijing, its best ever result in world arena and the first-ever hockey medal in Olympics.
World champions the Netherlands snatched the Olympic women's hockey gold with a 2-0 win over China on Friday.
The high-spirited squad, which did not catch more attention, presented a surprising Olympic gift to the Chinese people who had been upset to see the elimination of their football, basketball, volleyball, handball, softball and baseball teams.
On home soil, the Chinese girls led by South Korean coach Kim Chang-back upset Australia, the Atlanta and Sydney Olympic champions, and Germany, the Athen Olympic champions, on their struggling tourney to the final.
Facing current world No. 1 the Netherlands on Friday night in the fully-packed stadium, the Chinese girls managed to keep a clean sheet till the 51st minute when a penalty corner was converted by Van As Naomj to give the Netherlands 1-0 lead.
Maartje Goderie added another in the 62nd and sealed the 2-0 win for the more experienced Dutch team.
Except the two goals, the most eye-catching final was a balanced game with both sides having chances to win.
"We confront the world No. 1 today, and my players went all out," said Kim Chang-back. "The Dutch players are excellent, but our players are not inferior since they did their best."
The Chinese team, sixth-ranked in the world, was virtually unknown until it won the titles of both the Champions Trophy and the Asian Games in 2002 and finished fifth in its debut at the Sydney Olympics. They made one step ahead in Athens, yet denied a medal by Argentina.
The medal was awaited too long, though it was not gold.
With one defeat to the Netherlands and one draw with Australia in pool stage, China fought all their way to the semifinals through twists and turns.
However, China seized the critical juncture and upset defending champions Germany 3-2 to roar into the final, which was a sweet revenge on their 4-3 loss to Germany on penalty shootouts in the semi-final play in Athens.
The Netherlands, looking for their first gold since the Los Angeles Games, finally fulfiled their dream. They were silver medallists at the Athens Games, and got bronze twice in 1996 and 2000.
The Dutch coach Marc Lammers said he always had respect for the Chinese team. "They don't have many hockey players, but still they are the No. 2 in the Olympics," he said.
He noted that lots of players in his country started to practise hockey at the age of 14 or 15 and laid a very good foundation.
"It's a little regretful that we did not win the gold, after all we expected that too long and this is my last chance," said 36-year-old Cheng Hui, who played in three Olympic Games since 2000 and would retire after the Beijing Olympics.
"Every player wants to stand at the top podium, but the silver is still a breakthrough," said Huang Junxia, who was also as veteran as Cheng.
Kim, who is expected to make history for the world, not just for China, said he had no other way but smiled to the media, although his heart was bleeding. "After all the players made all their efforts."
He said, "They have to pay more to catch up with other players, even three or four times' efforts. However, I did not take them to the gold, that's why I'm sad."
"The Dutch players were more than we expected. They are quite outstanding in skills and tactics, and they can perfectly follow their coach," he said.
After coaching the Chinese team for nine years, Kim had no concrete plan for his career future. "I haven't enjoyed the beautiful scenes in China for all these years, and I want to take a rest and travel around China."
Before tonight's final, world No. 2 Argentina took the bronze with a 3-1 win over defending champions Germany.
This was Argentina's third Olympic hockey medal following a silver in 2000 and a bronze in 2004.
The third-ranked Germany, the surprise winner of Athens Games, failed to make their second appearance on the Olympic podium.