While almost every league in the world played last weekend, the CFA decided it was best to start the CSL’s international break a week earlier. The end result is that while the team gets more time to practice, the bubble of pressure is built up even more.
This is the first time China has gotten to this stage of qualifying since the 2002 World Cup qualifying process and as long as China is in the top three (of six) they have a shot at making it to Russia (the first two sides go through automatically while third place goes into a playoff). It is also the first time China has backed a domestic manager, Gao Hongbo, to take them to the World Cup since Wu Qisheng’s failed attempt to reach the 1998 World Cup.
The CFA likes to force the CSL to best serve the Chinese national team, but giving them an additional week off is likely to have the opposite effect. China’s opening match is against Korea on September 1st in Seoul, but the K-League still had a full slate of matches over the weekend.
While the additional week in the national team camp gives the players more time to practice together, it also can see a “stir crazy” type atmosphere build in the camp. Also, with the domestic league on break, the media has nothing but the story of the Korea game to focus on, leading to a search for story line and an even greater buildup of pressure.
China was always going to be the underdog in the Korea match and perhaps as such could pull off a bit of a surprise (a draw would be enough to thrill everyone). However, the media and public buildup surrounding the Korea game creates an unhealthy atmosphere where it will be hard for China to meet expectations while also de-emphasizing the more crucial match against Iran in Shenyang a few days later.
From the outside it’s hard to know how much these issues leak into the national team, but its hard to imagine that it doesn’t. While Gao has been able to get China punching above their weight previously, a result in Korea would be his greatest achievement to date.
In the meantime, the CFA should reconsider these additional breaks as they could very easily have the opposite of their intended effect.
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