Happy year of the Rabbit! I didn’t intend to go into such a winter hiatus in the close season, but things in China generally are quiet in wintertime, especially between Christmas and Chinese New Year.
There was of course a big exception this year in the shape of the Asian Cup. However, much like last time in 2007, China’s performance was disasterous, failing for the second time in succession to get past the group stage.
Despite a good start against Kuwait with a fortuitous 2-0 victory, China’s national team slipped back into their old habits with a 2-0 cuffing from the hosts Qatar. The writing was already on the wall for their final group match against Uzbekistan – nothing other than a victory by at least two clear goals would see China avert yet another international football calamity. Despite a very spirited performance and 2-2 final result, it was not enough, and back to the drawing board for national coach Gao Hongbo.
Unsurprisingly Gao himself was the focus of criticism and ridicule in equal measure in the aftermath of the debacle. Although, common sense prevailed and he held onto his job – it seems the CFA have learned the error of their ways and realised that replacing coach after coach makes little difference when the whole football system is flawed from top to bottom. As a matter of fact, Gao’s achievements seem relatively impressive to your correspondent – in the past year he masterminded a friendly victory over France, a 1-1 draw over Germany, and for the first time ever in the history of Chinese international football, a defeat of South Korea, beside Japan the most powerful Asian team and an ever-present at the world cup for over 25 years now.
But of course, the reasons for China’s continuing football embarassment have been discussed endlessly elsewhere. We will revisit this issue on at a later date whenever something new emerges to add to the debate. But right now, the game remains the same – as long as the CFA maintain a top-down approach, rather than a grass-roots one, China remains handicapped by all the usual problems.
Looking forward, there’s a fairly barren period from now until the 2014 World Cup qualifers begin for Asia – the preliminary games won’t take place until this autumn and the format is yet to be decided. With the Chinese Super League due to kick off in around a month or so, the best hope for China is a scandal free, strong Chinese Super League season in which emerging stars like Feng Renliang take the chance to display their talents in the Asian Champions League, to give China a springboard for their World Cup qualification campaign.