Away to Indonesia on October 15, the away round of qualification group matches of the Asian Cup, Team China earned an embarrasing draw, 1:1. Indonesia’s FIFA ranking before the match was 170th.
Funny thing happened again. A week before the match, the President of China, Mr. Xi Jinping, was visiting Indonesia, and made some comments about his beloved game of football: “I hope one day that China and Indonesia could meet in the finals of World Cup,” he said. A week later, China and Indonesia could barely meet in the finals of the Asian cup.
The Asian Football Confederation started this qualification stage for all AFC listed teams to participate 6 years ago. The purpose was for teams like Indonesia or India to have more opportunities to meet the traditionally stronger teams, and therefore, enhance the publicity of the Asian Cup. Nobody from Japan, South Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia or even China would take these qualifications matches for any importance. Now it turns out to be very important for Team China.
China is allocated in the group with Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Indonesia. The top two qualify automatically, and the best third-placed team of all groups also qualifies. In their first three group matches, China lost to Saudi Arabia, got a last minute home win against Iraq and then this draw against Indonesia. To qualify as one of the top two in the group, China has to win the remaining three matches, which would be quite a big ask.
The draw is being widely treated like a bad loss, even the Party’s mouthpiece, Xin Hua News Agency, claims that Team China was an insult to public mood, as if the public has better things to do.
Maybe the President’s wishes played another complicated role in the outcome again. 4 months again, when he was visiting Mexico, he made the famous comments that “China football has always been trying very hard, and I hope that one day China could win the World Cup…” A week later, on his birthday, Team China lost to Thailand U21 at home, 1:5.
The CFA is under greater pressure again this time. Before the match, some CFA leaders, including VP, Mr. Yu Hongchen, made his public appearance after a long period of silence. He, with a delegation of CFA officials, came to the national team’s training base in Guangdong, and acted like a campaign director. It is so obvious why he should be acting like that.
But the match turned out to be another disaster, just as the VP said before embarking on the flight to Jakarta: ‘a draw is a defeat.’ Team China dominated the first half, scored before half time, but the second half the players were basically tired and got no legs to run the extra meter. The home team nicked a goal back with the help of a sloppy defensive performance by Team China, and kept the pressure till the last second. If the goalkeeper, Zen Chen, who plays for Guangzhou Evergrande, had not made two outstanding saves, China would have lost this match.
After the match, the interim coach of Team China, Fu Bo, who faced the CCTV interviewer with a deeply dejected face, said: “I am just an interim. Anyone can replace me.”
For an interim coach, he did not do too badly in reorganizing the national team after the disgrace of losing to Thailand U21 at home, however, in Indonesia, the team was really playing like a bunch of tired amateurs who have no trust in this interim.
Marcelo Lippi made his visit to the national team before they went to Indonesia, and everyone has been crying for Lippi as the messiah for Team China. However, the challenge with Team China lies deeply with the overall structure of football governance. The CFA is incapable of managing the professional league, and neither can they provide a healthy working environment for the national team. If Lippi really accepts this job, he would find out how frustrating the internal negotiation will be very soon.
John Yan is Deputy Editor of Netease.com. Contact him at moc.l1674879282iamg@16748792828002g1674879282naiqn1674879282ay1674879282, or on weibo at: http://weibo.com/1646270104/profile?topnav=1&wvr=5