Not many people had expected that Team China would qualify for the second stage of the Asian Cup held in Australia, after just two group matches. On the contrary, before the tournament started, quite a few journalists who have covered the national team for a long period, were joking about coming back home after those two matches.
That was how low the expectations had been for the international team.
But after victories against Saudi Arabia and then Uzbekistan, on January 14, China had already won this group, with the last opponent North Korea to be played on Sunday, January 18. What a huge surprise!
You can imagine the public response to this early Asian Cup experience. The first two matches were played in Brisbane, on a pitch which the head coach Alain Perrin deemed not suitable for proper international football matches.
China will come back to Brisbane, a city regarded as the fortunate city among Chinese football supporters, and their quarter final opponent will be either South Korea, or the hosting nation Australia.
Full pages after full pages of coverage of the Uzbekistan match appeared throughout national and regional newspapers, TV news and especially internet and mobile internet coverage of every detail of that comeback from defeat match, reaching out to every corner of the society. This is some unexpected victory, and it remains to be seen whether there will be long reaching positive effect on football in China.
Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan, both had more right to brag rights about their football achievements in the past ten years, comparing to China’s 10 doomed football years. However, these two teams were not their old selves, even though they did appear to be old on the pitch.
Saudi Arabia’s performance against China was drab, lackluster and disinterested. They had fairly superior individual technique, and won a second half penalty, but the golden chance was not turned into a goal, and China scored later on through a lucky twisted free kick. 1:0 to China.
Uzbekistan were a bit better than Saudi Arabia, and have a great record against China in this tournament, they even scored first. During the half time break, Alain Perrin proved his worth, and made two game-changing substitutions in the second half, both led directly to goals.
This is a young China national team, average age 24.5 years old, energetic and can be reckless to a certain degree. Victories brought unbridled hopes back and long suffering China fans warmed up to this national team overnight.
The North Korea match is not important now, as they lost both to Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan. The quarter final against South Korea or Australia could possibly break the national TV viewing records for football.
Bouncing back overnight, even though the competitive level is still low, football in China needs and is now finding some inspiration.
John Yan is Deputy Editor of Netease.com. Contact him at moc.l1606924006iamg@16069240068002g1606924006naiqn1606924006ay1606924006, or on weibo at:http://weibo.com/1646270104/profile?topnav=1&wvr=5