China soc­cer coach re­signs af­ter loss to Uzbek­istan

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

China’s am­bi­tions to be­come a global soc­cer power are fac­ing a stark re­al­ity check af­ter the na­tional team’s coach stepped down fol­low­ing de­feats to Uzbek­istan and war-torn Syria, leav­ing in tat­ters a bid to qual­ify for the 2018 World Cup.

Chi­nese coach Gao Hongbo re­signed af­ter a 2-0 de­feat to Uzbek­istan on Tues­day night in Tashkent, days af­ter los­ing to Syria. The slump un­der­lines the chal­lenge fac­ing Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping, who wants China to host - and win - the World Cup.

With Xi’s bless­ing, China had been in a bullish soc­cer mood. It in­vested bil­lions of dol­lars to de­velop grass­roots soc­cer academies, brought high-pro­file play­ers and man­agers into China from over­seas, and is buy­ing into global soc­cer as­sets from Ital­ian club In­ter Mi­lan to Eng­land’s Manchester City.

Bei­jing wants China to com­pete with the best teams in the world by 2050, while in­vestors like In­ter Mi­lan’s new Chi­nese owner Sun­ing Com­merce Group talk about set­ting global soc­cer sup­ply chains from clubs to me­dia out­lets and mer­chan­dis­ing deals.

But many sports in­dus­try in­sid­ers ques­tion whether China can live up its bold am­bi­tions. “The mas­sive in­vest­ment in foot­ball, and in par­tic­u­lar Pres­i­dent Xi’s per­sonal in­volve­ment, has raised ex­pec­ta­tions to wholly un­re­al­is­tic lev­els,” said Mark Dreyer, Bei­jing-based founder of sports in­for­ma­tion web­site China Sports In­sider.

China, ranked 78th in the world be­hind St. Kitts and Ne­vis and Libya, has qual­i­fied just once for the World Cup fi­nals. That was in 2002, when the team lost all three games with­out scor­ing a goal.

“This isn’t go­ing to change for years, and no coach - for­eign or oth­er­wise - can per­form the sort of mir­a­cles that would be needed, no mat­ter what Chi­nese fans or Pres­i­dent Xi might ex­pect,” Dreyer added.

Sen­ti­ment amongst Chi­nese fans was more one of res­ig­na­tion than anger on Wed­nes­day morn­ing, a re­flec­tion of how lo­cal sup­port­ers have long had to put up with ram­pant graft and low qual­ity in the do­mes­tic game.

“Now the coach has re­signed, why don’t we just dis­band the whole team and let the FA of­fi­cials go home,” said one per­son on China’s pop­u­lar mi­croblog site Sina Weibo. “Let’s stop wast­ing tax­pay­ers’ money and use it for some­thing more im­por­tant.”

Tues­day’s de­feat left the Chi­nese team at the bot­tom of its qual­i­fy­ing group, be­low Iran, Uzbek­istan, South Korea, Syria and Qatar af­ter the first four games in Asia’s third round of qual­i­fi­ca­tion with six games re­main­ing.

The state-run Global Times news­pa­per said the seem­ing pros­per­ity of do­mes­tic foot­ball, which has seen huge sums spent on player trans­fers and star for­eign man­agers, was just “a fake bub­ble” pumped up by “crazy cap­i­tal” and im­ported tal­ent.

The broader Chi­nese in­vest­ment splurge into soc­cer, which has sparked up to $3 bil­lion worth of Chi­nese deals for global sport­ing as­sets since the end of last year, is also fac­ing road bumps.

China’s rich­est man, Wang Jian­lin, threw cold water over in­vest­ments in over­seas soc­cer clubs in Au­gust, say­ing it was tough to ac­tu­ally make any money. Wang’s Dalian Wanda Group has a stake in Span­ish club Atletico Madrid.—Reuters

RA­MAL­LAH: Pales­tinian Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion (PFA) head Jib­ril Ra­joub holds a press con­fer­ence yes­ter­day in the West Bank city of Ra­mal­lah. — AFP

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