Beijing (AFP) – China’s Women’s World Cup football team swapped the training pitch for the classroom to beef up their political knowledge and reinforce their dedication to the communist-ruled country.

In a step that is unlikely to be replicated by their rivals at next month’s tournament in France, the whole squad sat down for a series of lectures dubbed “Motherland in My Heart”.

Whether it helps China beat European heavyweights Germany in their World Cup opener on June 8 is debatable, but captain Wu Haiyan said: “Patriotic education is of great significance to us who are going to play for our country.”

The Chinese Football Association (CFA), the governing body, hailed it as essential preparation to face the world’s best football teams.

During the class on Monday in Beijing, Professor Wen Jing from Beijing Normal University spoke at length to all the players and coaches.

They studied China’s constitution and laws, which “made the squad clear about the basic rights and obligations of citizens, and deepened their understanding of patriotic rules from the moral, legal and political levels”, the CFA said.

The squad were pictured with notebooks on their laps and a large Chinese flag next to a projector screen at the front of the classroom.

The CFA, which is often lambasted by Chinese football fans for its running of the game — it previously banned tattoos — said that the “activities… left a deep mark in the hearts of the players”.

China’s “Steel Roses” will need to pull off a shock if they are to make a serious impact at the World Cup.

They are ranked 16th by FIFA and compete in a tough Group B that contains Spain, South Africa and two-time champions Germany.

China’s best performance at a World Cup was in 1999, when they lost the final to hosts the United States on penalties.

Led by Paris Saint-Germain’s Wang Shuang, China’s women carry the hopes of a nation that under football-fan President Xi Jinping has grand ambitions.

Xi wants the country of 1.4 billion people to host and even one day win the men’s World Cup.

But the men’s side have reached football’s top table only once, in 2002, when they hastily departed without a point or scoring a goal.