Bittersweet time for Chinese soccer fans

13:21, June 17, 2010      

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Ji Yun-Nam of DPR Korea celebrates his goal during the Group G first round match between Brazil and DPR Korea at 2010 FIFA World Cup at Ellis Park stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, on June 15, 2010. Brazil won 2-1. (Xinhua/Li Ga)

The stunning first-up performances of Asian teams at the World Cup have excited Chinese fans who are hailing the improvement of the level of soccer in the region. However, they are also concerned now that China will have difficulty catching up with their neighbors.

The ROK got off to a flying start for the Asian teams when they outclassed former European champions Greece 2-0 on Saturday. Japan followed with a 1-0 victory over Cameroon on Monday. DPRK lost to five-time world champions Brazil on Tuesday but stunned the world with their strong will and amazing skills.

"As an Asian, I am so happy to see our countries doing better and better on the world stage. Some may say Asian countries had homefield advantage at the 2002 World Cup Finals in the ROK and Japan but they have proven themselves again," said Wang Wen, the president of the Beijing Soccer Fans Association.

The performances of China's neighbors has raised concerns about the standard of the game here and the national team's ability to qualify for another World Cup. The country made its only appearance at the World Cup finals in 2002 and did not claim a win in its three group matches and failed to even score a goal.

"I don't feel like saying anything now. Actions speak louder than words. We have to start working from now," said China's soccer chief, Wei Di, who is watching the Cup in South Africa.

The DPRK's encounter with Brazil also reminded many Chinese, including Wang, of China's 4-0 defeat to the South Americans in their 2002 World Cup group match, which Wang also attended.

"Although the DPRK lost, they really performed very well. They had some chances and even scored a goal. There is no way to compare our team's performance eight years ago with the DPRK's yesterday. We did not pose a threat to the Brazilians," the 52-year-old said.

However, Hao Haidong, a striker on China's team at the 2002 World Cup, refused to accept the criticism. "I think it's ridiculous to compare our match in 2002 with this match the Brazilians were the champions in 2002 and they are not that strong now. Why do we always lower ourselves through other teams' performances?" Hao wrote in his online column.

China also lost in 2002 to Costa Rica 2-0 and to Turkey 3-0. In sharp contrast, the ROK made the semifinals and ultimately finished fourth while Japan made it to the last 16.

China are now ranked 84th in the world and eighth in Asia. Even worse, they are only ranked 15th for the 2014 World Cup qualifiers in Asia, which means they are likely to face top teams in the early stages.

"Obviously, China has been left far behind our East Asian neighbors. It used to be only Japan and ROK and now DPRK have also proved to be stronger than us. I'm afraid we won't be able to cheer for our own team at the World Cup in the near future," Wang said.

China are now training on a plateau in Yunan province to prepare for the Asian Cup next year and have shown some signs of recovery recently. In February, China won their first match against ROK since 1978 in an international game at the East Asian Championships in Tokyo in February and went on to win the tournament. In a greater surprise, they upset France 1-0 in a friendly match on June 4.

But for a veteran fan who has spent his whole life supporting the Chinese team, those victories are far from enough. "The victories are really encouraging but we can't take them too seriously. The gap is expanding. Even if we were given a chance to South Africa, there is no way we could perform like our Asian brothers," the fan said.

Source: China Daily

Special Report: World Cup 2010


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