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Home >> Sports
UPDATED: 09:54, June 09, 2006
Wistful fans wish China were there as World Cup kicks off
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With a name like Jens Hoydem, it is certainly no surprise that he'll be back home in Germany for the next month.

Hoydem, a 36-year-old football fan, has worked for a foreign-invested logistics company in Beijing for nearly 10 years; and is using up all his leave to attend the World Cup, which kicks off today.

"Everybody where I work has been talking about the World Cup, both German and Chinese," said Hoydem, who also went to the tournaments in Italy (1990) and the United States (1994).

"As soon as Germany was chosen to host it, I knew I had to go back."

The matches may kick off as late as 3 am in China, which is not playing, but football fever is as intense here as anywhere.

Premier Wen Jiabao spoke for the nation last month when he declared: "China has a massive number of football fans who will stay up to watch the matches and I'm one of them."

Many foreigners in the country will have the chance to cheer on their home teams, but the Chinese have no national team in the tournament to cheer for given the team's abysmal performance in the qualifying rounds.

Football coaching guru Alf Galustian thinks, however, that there is hope for future tournaments.

"I feel that China, with its population base and interest in football, has huge potential in the future," said Galustian, an Englishman who is director of international coaching for Coerver Coaching, one of the largest football education and coaching organizations in the world.

Galustian first visited China at the request of Adidas and the Chinese Football Association in 1997. Since then, he has returned every year to work with association coaches on programmes in major cities.

"When I first came to China, I was very impressed by the enthusiasm and love of the game from both the coaches and young players," said Galustian, who has also worked with the French, Brazilian, Japanese and South African football federations.

"After working several times on the mainland and in Hong Kong, I have been impressed at the improvement at youth level, but unfortunately this does not seem to have been transferred successfully to senior teams.

"I've worked for 13 years in both Japan and South Korea with the federations and Pro League there, and I've seen much more improvement in translating success at the youth level into the senior level."

China's only appearance in the World Cup finals to date came in the last tournament, held in Japan and South Korea in 2002.

Galustian said football in China had to be revamped at youth level to ensure eventual success for the senior national side.

"The big problem, in my opinion, is that there are many youth coaches who teach skills, but are less able to teach the effective game-use skills," he said.

"As a result young players look skilful when they are young, but they cannot convert these skills into practical use in real games.

"It would help if more Chinese players were to get experience in the European leagues. But, in my opinion, this would be the last step; the key is getting the fundamentals right."

ClubFootball in Beijing is another organization that is working at the grass-roots level to improve football in China.

It runs a range of coaching courses for international schools and is now focusing more on working with Chinese children to promote the game.

Last month, coaches from the group went to Urumqi, the capital of Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, to deliver a programme of free coaching classes for local youngsters.

"There's not much in the way of football courses for kids that goes on here," said David Niven, ClubFootball's operations manager. "Some of the kids that have talent and rich parents are sent to football academies, but for the rest there is not much out there.

"Up to now, we have mainly worked with international schools here and have set up after-school coaching courses.

"But we are now planning to set up academies just for Chinese children."

Football fever

Despite the national team's failure to qualify for this year's World Cup, Chinese fans' passion for the tournament continues unabated.

China Central Television, which is broadcasting the games in China, is expecting the audience to surpass the combined total of 7 billion in 2002 .

In an international poll of football fans conducted by Global Market Insite, Inc, China had the highest number of respondents, seven in 10, who said they would watch all the World Cup Games, even given the time difference. About two-thirds said they planned to call in sick or take leave to watch matches.

And, they are hopeful of China's participation in the future, too. More than half of the 1,000 Chinese fans polled said they believe China can get into the last 16 of a World Cup within 20 years.

One way to guarantee qualification would be to host the tournament.

Sports Sina, one of China's leading sports websites, reported earlier this year that China was hoping to bid for the 2018 World Cup, citing sources from the Chinese Football Association (FA).

It later retracted the report, with a top CFA official quoted as saying any eventual decision on whether to launch a bid to host the World Cup would have to come from China's sports administration or even higher up in the government.

With the tournament currently being rotated among the continents, China's chance could come in 2018, when Asia is next due to host.

For many fans in China, however, that is far too long to wait to see the action first-hand.

According to a report on China Radio International's website, CRIenglish.com, at least 50,000 Chinese football fans are expected to see World Cup matches in Germany.

But none of them will be as excited about being there as Jens Hoydem is.

Source: China Daily


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