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It's ok: Be optimistic

By Tang Zhe  (China Daily)

09:53, May 06, 2013

Beijing Guo'an players celebrate after playing to a 0-0 draw with Sanfrecce Hiroshima on April 30. The club qualified for the knockout stage, as did league rival Guangzhou Evergrande. (Photo/China Daily)

Recent continental success might finally be pointing to a turnaround in Chinese soccer, Tang Zhe reports.

Eight years ago, Shandong Luneng and Shenzhen Jianlibao both represented China in the knockout stage of the AFC Champions League.

Shandong swept all six opponents in the 2005 group games, while Shenzhen cruised into the semifinal.

But after Shanghai Shenhua made the quarterfinals in 2006, Chinese clubs achieved little in the tournament, rarely surviving in group matches, until Guangzhou Evergrande advanced to the quarterfinals in 2012.

Though fast-rising Evergrande made plain its ambition to finish in the top four, the excitement it has brought to its group-play matches has been a surprise.

Evergrande and Beijing Guo'an repeated the 2005 feat, with both making the knockout rounds. Two other Chinese teams - Jiangsu Sainty and Guizhou Renhe - won 13 group points.

Even if Evergrande's performance was somewhat expected, the performance of the other three teams this season has given a much-needed boost of confidence to Chinese soccer.

With its aging lineup and frugal investment in the transfer market, it came as a surprise when Beijing defeated the three-time Asian champion Pohang Steelers and J-League winner Sanfrecce Hiroshima under new coach Aleksandar Stanojevic.

It turned out to be more challenging for Jiangsu Sainty and Guizhou Renhe, who are in the tournament for the first time.

The two teams were widely praised for their fighting spirit in the last round, though their hopes of moving on to the nest round are slim.

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