For some nations, making it to the World Cup is an expectation, a requirement, that fans view as their birthright and anything less is considered unacceptable. However, international soccer is getting more and more competitive, most nations cannot take for granted a World Cup appearance and qualifying for the big show is a major accomplishment.
In that vein, over the weekend China celebrated the 10 year anniversary of its qualification for the country’s maiden World Cup appearance in 2002. It was a 1-0 victory over Oman on October 7, 20001 that secured China’s spot in Korea/Japan, a wonderful accomplishment. That side, led by aging veteran strikers Hao Haidong and Yang Chen also contained then up and coming stars like Li Weifeng, Sun Jihai, and Li Tie. Unfortunately, when they finally got to the World Cup, they were overwhelmed, losing all three matches and failing to score a goal (though they were in the same group as the eventual champion and third place teams).
Since the high of 2002, many predicted great things for Chinese soccer, but all of that was killed off by corruption in the form of the “black whistles” scandal and general internal corruption in the Chinese Football Association. The world’s most populous nation has failed to qualify for both World Cups played since 2002 and though they made it to the final as hosts of the Asian Cup in 2004 （losing in Beiing to Japan), in 2007 and 2011, they failed to get out of the group stage.
Despite its massive population and huge economic advancement, China still has an inferiority complex and as such, it sees nothing wrong with celebrating its one and only successful World Cup appearance, even if there wasn’t anything to celebrate once the team made it there. The manager, Bora Milutinovich, a miracle worker in the US, Costa Rica, and Nigeria is still widely viewed as a national hero for what he did with the national team, finally bringing to an end the mindset of failure.
In China, no anniversary is too small to celebrate and as long as its celebrating a success, it’s worth celebrating. Also, 2002 was a time for optimism, a time when it appeared China was turning a corner and moving forward. Though it never actually turned that corner, the happy spirit of the time is much preferred to the current pessimism and doubt that weighs heavily in the mind of fans.
Let’s just hope that when the 20th anniversary comes around in another 10 years, 2002 doesn’t remain as China’s sole World Cup appearance.
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