U-19 team hop­ing to re­store na­tional pride after se­nior de­feats

China Daily (USA) - - CHINA -

On Satur­day, China’s men’s un­der-19 na­tional soccer team will be­gin its cam­paign in the Asian Foot­ball Con­fed­er­a­tion’s U-19 Cham­pi­onship, fight­ing for a place in next year’s FIFA U-20World Cup.

The team will at­tempt to re­store some pride for Chi­nese soccer fans, dis­traught at the na­tional se­nior team’s losses to Syria last week and Uzbek­istan on Tues­day, leav­ing the na­tion’s hopes of com­pet­ing in the 2018 FIFA World Cup slim­mer than ever. Gao Hongbo, who as­sumed the role of team coach in Fe­bru­ary, re­signed after the de­feat by Uzbek­istan.

The se­nior team only squeezed into the fi­nal qual­i­fi­ca­tion stage at the last minute, when it beat Qatar to be­come the fourth-best run­ner-up from eight groups. Only four of the best-placed run­ners-up were el­i­gi­ble to ad­vance to the next phase of the com­pe­ti­tion.

After the se­nior team’s 3-2 loss away to South-Korea and a 0-0 home draw with Iran, two top-tier op­po­nents in the Asian group, fans had height­ened ex­pec­ta­tions be­cause the play­ers dis­played good morale. How­ever, the de­feats to Syria and Uzbek­istan led to strong crit­i­cism of Gao’s strate­gies and tac­tics, even though some fans ar­gued that the Chi­nese Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion should shoul­der greater re­spon­si­bil­ity than the coach.

For many fans how­ever, the rank­ings of China’s lead­ing clubs are less de­press­ing. Guangzhou Ever­grande Taobao FC has won two AFC Cham­pi­ons League tro­phies, first in 2013 and again last year. More­over, Su­per League at­ten­dances ranked fifth world­wide and No 1 in Asia, with av­er­age match at­ten­dances of more than 22,580, ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics pub­lished by the web­site mlssoc­cer.

In the medium-to-longterm plan for the de­vel­op­ment of soccer, re­leased in April, China pro­posed rais­ing the num­ber of pitches along with the num­ber of el­e­men­tary and mid­dle school stu­dents who play reg­u­larly. Un­der the plan, the coun­try hopes to see 30 mil­lion stu­dents play­ing soccer fre­quently by 2020. In a more re­cent plan, the CFA is­sued 10 mea­sures, de­signed to come into force next year, to pro­mote the de­vel­op­ment of teenage soccer. They in­clude youth train­ing cen­ters, co­op­er­a­tion with ed­u­ca­tion de­part­ments and rais­ing the level of coach­ing, ac­cord­ing to re­ports in Ti­tan Sports, China’s big­gest sports news­pa­per.

“Although the num­ber 30 mil­lion may be de­bat­able, it shows great progress that we haven’t set a tar­get for team per­for­mances, but on the num­ber of par­tic­i­pants,” said Zhang Lu, a for­mer pro­fes­sional player turned com­men­ta­tor, in an in­ter­view with China News Ser­vice TV in April.

WU ZHIZHAO / FOR CHINA DAILY

For­mer na­tional team coach Gao Hongbo looks on dur­ing a FIFA World Cup Asian Zone qual­i­fier against Syria in Xi'an, Shaanxi prov­ince, last week, which China lost 1-0.

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