De­spite World Cup loss, Tai­wan sees fu­ture in soc­cer

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

It is a rare sight to see nearly 20,000 peo­ple gath­ered around the Taipei Dome on a Tues­day night. What is even rarer was that they were not there for a con­cert at the dome, but to at­tend a soc­cer game held at the nearby Taipei Mu­nic­i­pal Sta­dium in a coun­try that has long been re­garded as a soc­cer desert.

This was what hap­pened this Tues­day when the home team faced vis­it­ing Thai­land at an Asian qual­i­fier for the 2018 World Cup.

A long-awaited game for Tai­wan’s na­tional soc­cer team and all Tai­wanese fans, it was the first time in 12 years that the team, com­pet­ing un­der the name of Chi­nese Taipei, had ad­vanced to the sec­ond round of the Asian qual­i­fiers for the World Cup. Fac­ing an up­hill bat­tle against the much stronger visi­tors whose FIFA world rank­ing of 129 tow­ers above Tai­wan’s 178, the home team had a poor be­gin­ning de­spite a boost from the 18,000-plus fans.

Though fea­tur­ing a record high of eight play­ers cur­rently com­pet­ing over­seas, Team Chi­nese Taipei was ap­par­ently not at the same level as the vis­it­ing Thai team.

Thai striker Teerasil Dangda gave his team a com­fort­able two-goal lead in the first half; the first in the 21st minute and the sec­ond in the 39th.

Trail­ing 0-2 and in des­per­ate need to get back into the game, Tai­wanese play­ers did much bet­ter in the sec­ond half, as they posed se­ri­ous threats sev­eral times to the Thai goal­keeper. Though the bids were never more than threats, with the at­tempts fall­ing short.

Ul­ti­mately the home­town boys lost 0-2 in the his­toric matchup. Com­ment­ing on the game, Tai­wan head coach Chen Kuei-jen gave high credit to his play­ers de­spite the loss.

“Our play­ers did their best. There were some mis­takes due to a lack of con­cen­tra­tion and we let in two goals in the first half,” Chen said. Stress­ing that there is room for im­prove­ment, Chen said he will re­mind the play­ers to not make the same mis­takes in up­com­ing games.

Fol­low­ing the set­back, Tai­wan is ex­pected to meet with one of the top teams in the group, Iraq, among oth­ers.

The group win­ners and the four best run­ners-up ad­vance to the fi­nal qual­i­fy­ing round for the World Cup fi­nals to be hosted by Rus­sia in 2018.

The China Post would like to give credit to the na­tional squad. De­spite the loss, which was some­what to be ex­pected, Tai­wan soc­cer still sees a glimpse of hope for the years to come. For decades, many Tai­wanese soc­cer fans have been call­ing the is­land na­tion a “soc­cer desert” be­cause the coun­try is best known for its love of base­ball.

Other than World Cup fever that only oc­curs ev­ery four years, soc­cer in Tai­wan hardly reg­is­ters for most peo­ple.

But a wave of soc­cer fever has been aroused over the past years when Tai­wan’s soc­cer as­so­ci­a­tion be­gan ac­tively re­cruit­ing eth­nic Tai­wanese or Chi­nese play­ers with pro­fes­sional ex­pe­ri­ence to boost the na­tional team’s com­pet­i­tive­ness.

With more in­vest­ment by lo­cal sports author­i­ties in mak­ing Tai­wan soc­cer stronger, Tai­wanese fans have also been pay­ing more at­ten­tion to the sport.

Dur­ing a game be­tween Chi­nese Taipei and Malaysia on July 3, 2011, a record-break­ing 15,335 fans in Taipei wit­nessed a his­toric win when the Tai­wanese team beat an op­po­nent that was ranked in the top 150 for the first time in a decade. The latest in­ter­na­tional game last Tues­day fur­ther broke the 2011 record, set­ting a new his­toric-high with 18,168 fans in one sin­gle game, in­clud­ing 4,000-plus Thai fans.

The TV rat­ings for broad­cast­ing the Tues­day game also sur­pris­ingly sur­passed the rat­ings for Tai­wan’s pro­fes­sional base­ball games held the same day, which was rare be­cause base­ball is seen as na­tional pas­time for Tai­wan. Also dur­ing Tues­day’s game, many lo­cal soc­cer fans vol­un­tar­ily or­ga­nized to root for Tai­wan by hold­ing R.O.C. na­tional flags.

Some even printed self-edited brochures so that more fans could learn the ros­ters of both teams and about Tai­wan soc­cer as a whole.

With more such en­thu­si­as­tic Tai­wanese soc­cer fans, a soc­cer as­so­ci­a­tion that de­votes more time and money to­ward re­cruit­ing more ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers and more media cov­er­age, the long-term de­vel­op­ment of the sport in Tai­wan may see a rosier out­look and may some­day turn this “soc­cer desert” into an oa­sis.

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