Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Friday, June 14, 2002

World Cup Debut Exposes Gap between China and Soccer Elites

Three straight defeats, with nine goals conceded while not a single one scored, has recorded China's World Cup debut. Yet the Chinese soccer has gained far more than that from the soccer's premier tournament.


Turkey Survive World Cup Group C by 3-0 Win over China
Three straight defeats, with nine goals conceded while not a single one scored, has recorded China's World Cup debut.

Yet the Chinese soccer has gained far more than that from the soccer's premier tournament.

For the world's most populous nation, it has been an excellent chance to realize exactly how far China lags behind the global elites.

China learned a lot despite defeat
"We've learned a lot from these three matches," said coach Bora Milutinovic after China crashed out of the World Cup following Thursday's 3-0 loss to Turkey.

Impressive Brazil Beat World Cup Debutants China 4-0
"When you play for the first time ever in the World Cup, it is very difficult with lack of experience.

"At this level, the small details make a big difference," added Milutinovic, who has confirmed that he would step down from his post after the World Cup.

As newcomers in the premier soccer event, China were not favored to progress from a group which also included Costa Rica, Turkey and four-times world champions Brazil.

Easy Asian qualifying run lifted Chinese expectation
But an easy Asian qualifying run, especially the second phase of six victories, one draw and one defeat, lifted Chinese people's expectation on the national team's World Cup debut.

Costa Rica Beat China 2-0
Before the tournament, rampant were optimistic fans' talk of China qualifying for the second round.

A series of resounding defeats on their first World Cup outing after 44 years of failure to qualify, however, spoke the volume of the ridicule of the optimism and the underdog status of China.

They turned out a sluggish performance in going down 2-0 to Costa Rica, then conceded easy goals against Brazil, and finally slumped to the thrashing by Turkey.

Reality: gap with strong teams
"There is still a gap between the strong teams and us in terms of strategy, tactics and skill. This is the reality and we have to accept it." admitted assistant coach Jin Zhiyang before China's final match against Turkey.

With co-hosts Japan and South Korea on the verge of advancing into the knock-out stage, China's fleet exit has made it obvious that the nation is far behind its neighboring rivals.

"Japan and South Korea have extended the gap between us." said Jin, "It is unlikely we can close the gap in a short time."

The outcome also means one proud record has fallen. Milutinovic has, for the only time in five World Cup finals, failed to reach the second round.

The legendary coach previously worked miracles in leading Mexico, Costa Rica, United States and Nigeria to the second round of the event, but China's inexperience made a repeat impossible.

The fact that Milutinovic is having trouble in finding 11 world class players in a country of 1.2 billion people may sound comical, but China has little or no football history, and only a couple of players of the squad are foreign based.

Of the 23 Chinese players in South Korea, only a few have played abroad. Defenders Fan Zhiyi and Sun Jihai, were both formerly of English first-division side Crystal Palace, with Sun now at Manchester City.

Besides them, forward Yang Chen plays for German club Eintract Frankfurt, while a few others have had brief loans or trials overseas.

The remainder all play in China's domestic league, still at a fairly low level by international standards.

The globe-trotting "Milu", as he is known throughout China, has underlined a lack of international experience as one of the reasons for the country's relatively slow development.

Milu: players need to play abroad
"The Chinese players need to play abroad, and it will help Chinese football if they travel." said the 58-year-old Yugoslav.

Nevertheless, hope looms as promising youngsters, like defender Du Wei and forward Qu Bo, both 21, impressed the world with their confidence and talents against Brazil, the highest-profile game China's footballers have ever played.

Milutinovic had heaped praises on their efforts in the China-Brazil match.

"I am happy that the young players have played well. This means we have made a good decision to take them to the World Cup." said Milutinovic, who has insisted on giving opportunities to the youth since he took over the team in January, 2000.

Now that World Cup craze has well and truly gripped China, and with Chinese players now in the spotlight for overseas clubs, chances are that a much more formidable side will return to Germany 2006.

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Turkey Survives World Cup Group C by 3-0 Win over China  

Brazil Thrash China 4-0 in Group C  

Costa Rica Beats China 2-0 in Group C


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