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China Impresses at Asian Cup, Turn Around in Football Fortunes Could be Around the Corner

Team Dragon 2
China made a huge impression in Australia. Could they follow this up with a World Cup appearance in Russia? (Xinhua)

China made a huge impression in Australia. Could they follow this up with a World Cup appearance in Russia? (Xinhua)

It wasn’t the way that China’s men’s national team wanted to exit the 2015 AFC Asian Cup, but a 2-0 defeat in the quarterfinals to host Australia on Thursday night eliminated them from the tournament and they will now head back home. Despite the setback, this is a team that supporters in Australia and back in the Middle Kingdom can certainly be proud of as they look ahead to the qualification process for the 2018 World Cup.

However, there must be cautious optimism as head coach Alain Perrin and his staff continue to develop a team capable of making that next step.

Just think, it was over three years ago when the Chinese Football Association made the bold move of hiring Spanish coach Jose Antonio Camacho in the hopes that the success the Spanish national team was having at the time would rub off onto China’s team. However, the team failed in qualifying for the 2014 World Cup and stumbled early in qualification for the current Asian Cup. The worst would come as they suffered humiliating friendly losses to Brazil (8-0) and Thailand (5-1), which ultimately sealed the fate of the 59-year-old.

In addition to the misfortunes of the national team, China’s domestic league was in the doldrums as a series of corruption scandals and unattractive play on the pitch did little to entice fans to spend their money to head out to the stadiums.

The misfortunes of the national team and the league also affected participation in the sport among children in China. It had gotten so bad that parents wouldn’t dare let their children near a pitch out of fear that there is no future in the sport.

However, things appear to be looking up as various companies are investing in the Chinese Super League in addition to making reforms. There is even an initiative by the government to get children interested in football as they are making it a compulsory part of its national curriculum.

The message in sparking youths interest in football is made clear by China’s number one football fan President Xi Jinping: as China continues to move up in the world on the economic and geopolitical fronts, the misfortunes of its football teams must end.

President Xi Jinping, China's number one football fan, wants China to do better in the sport. (Lan Hongguang/Xinhua)

President Xi Jinping, China’s number one football fan, wants China to do better in the sport. (Lan Hongguang/Xinhua)

Back to the Asian Cup, anyone who would have bet on China winning their group, let alone coming out of it, would have been called crazy. But the one advantage Perrin and his squad had was the lack of pressure on them to get results. And it was that lack of pressure that allowed them to go out in their three group matches against Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, perform well and collect the maximum 9 points.

China’s performances in Australia have restored the confidence of supporters back at home, and some maybe thinking the future is bright for the sport if this form continues going into qualifying for the World Cup. This could also spark more interest in football among youths in the country.

It is still a long way off to see any results as China still works to catch up with their East Asian counterparts in South Korea and Japan, but Tom Byer, who has been brought in as a consultant by China’s Ministry of Education to bring soccer into schools, believes China’s run in the Asian Cup will payoff in the long run.

From the New York Times:

“The national team was in need of a good international competition, and China winning their group has already shattered expectations. The Chinese government has just created a policy that makes football compulsory in schools. I believe we are about to see the long-awaited football boom in China. This policy and the good results could be the spark.”

We will all just have to wait and see.

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