Despite World Cup loss, Taiwan sees future in soccer
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.