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Footballers make small progress
BY Li Shi (China Daily) Updated:2005-08-11 09:51

  The Chinese men's national football team has been described as the perennial under-achiever of Asian football.

  Last week they took the opportunity to prove their doubters wrong.

  In the 2005 East Asian Football Federation Championship attended by China, Japan, the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, China won the title without losing a game.

  The victory, and also the energetic performances of a new team which included several under-20 team players, rekindled the hopes of Chinese football fans, who have been as frequently disappointed as their stock-market counterparts in recent years.

  They could not face any more disappointment.

  The only positive memory for Chinese football fans was the team's appearance at the 2002 World Cup finals. However, even this was a disappointment, with three defeats, nine goals conceded and none scored.

  What followed this tantalizing appearance was three years of disorder in the domestic leagues, involving gambling, match fixing and the notorious "black whistles."

  Rubbing salt in the wound, a 1-0 defeat in Kuwait left hopes of an appearance at the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany in tatters.

  This recent success, even though only regional, is a shot in the arm for Chinese football and its fans.

  However, for a medical patient a couple of shots in the arm will not solve the real problem, and the same goes in football. This trophy should not be cause of complacency or satisfaction.

  As team leaders have pointed out, the national team still needs to do much to improve the strength of its squad.

  Japan, one of Asia's top teams, did not send its strongest team to the ROK. Many top players, half of the starting line-up in fact, did not attend the tournament. The ROK, previously undefeated by China for 27 matches, also fielded a weakened side.

  Worse, none of the 11 players in Japan's starting line-up in their 2:2 draw with China last Wednesday were regular starters. Although China was missing four key players, the result was still embarrassing

  Head coach Zhu Guanghu and Chinese Football Association (CFA) officials admitted that the team at times still struggled to compete with these under-strength Japan and ROK squads. The players are yet to mature. "We scored first, but could not hold onto the lead, " said Zhu.

  Winning the regional tournament was a good start, but only a start.

  Zhu displayed flexible tactics and an ability to adapt to the situation on the pitch. The players played confidently, and held their own against their Asian archrivals. The fans were patient and realistic in their expectations.

  All of these are good signs, which should help the re-emergence of the national team.

  However, without the emergence of an organised professional league, in the long term the national team will become "water without a source."

  Chinese youth teams have frequently gained eye-catching results in world youth competitions, but few players have grown in to high calibre internationals. They seem to go downhill in the lacklustre domestic league.

  The CFA urgently needs to sort out the mess, instead of resting on its laurels after this small glory. It must face up to the challenges of attracting fans to the stadiums, and making the players less rowdy and more professional.

  Above all, the organization should display that it has the ability to become a credible leader of Chinese football.

  



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