China football 2004 12-30-2004 15:28

In this section, our focus is on soccer, or football, as it's known in most parts of the world. For years, football has been the most watched, if not played, sport in the world's most populated country. But 2004 has marked a perplexing and disappointing year in China's football history. The men's team suffered an early elimination in the World Cup Asian Qualifiers. The men's Olympic team couldn't clinch a ticket to the Athens Games, either. The women's squad DID show up in Greece, but only succumbed to an 8-nil loss to Germany. Back home, domestic competitions were thrown into disarray as the governing body and clubs remained at loggerheads over the format of the pro-league. Of course though, there are still some rays of light.

When FIFA named Brazilian star Ronaldinho Footballer of 2004 at its year-end gala, few expected to hear China's name mentioned. To many people's surprise, Chinese men's football claimed the Best Mover award, after adding more than one hundred rankings points and charging over 30 positions compared with a year before. However, home media and fans paid little attention to the prize.

Yang Ming, Snr Sports Correspondent, Xinhua News Agency, said, "The climb in ranking positions really doesn't mean anything. Did we qualify for the World Cup or the Olympics? What's behind the women's team's 8-to-nothing loss to Germany? ...So many questions remain to be answered."

Most journalists and fans would agree with Yang raising those questions. First, the year didn't start well for the Chinese men's squad vying to play in the Olympics for the first time since 1988. But they quickly fell behind leaders South Korea and never caught up.

The women's squad did make through the Asian Qualifiers and even promised to make up for the men's loss by winning a medal in Athens. However, what really happened to them was nothing short of heart breaking.

In the opening group game, the former silver medallists followed a seemingly erroneous strategy by launching all-out attacks against Germany. But soon they were only to be trounced by the World Cup holders eight-to-nothing, the worst disaster in the team's history.

The nightmare continued three days later, when Mexico held China to a one-one draw, killing China's last hope of entering the last eight.

Saddened by the withering of the so-called "iron roses", home fans hang their last hopes on the men's team's chances for the World Cup qualification.

Leading their group, China had once looked the favorites, and they even used the Asian Cup as a practice for the next and final round of the Asian Qualifiers.

In fact, Dutchman Arie Haan's team didn't fare too bad in Beijing, overcoming Olympic dark horses Iraq and former Asian champions Iran, before reaching the final, to tie their best record in the tournament. But their controversial final loss to Japan at the Workers Stadium still angered a any home fans, and would soon proved to be the start of a slump at the wrong time.

Haan may argue that his team only lost two official games in 2004,but the second just turned out to be too costly for China. A 1-nil away loss at Kuwait turned around the situation, with the one-time leaders desperately needing to cancel their goal-differential deficit within the very last game.

Miracles didn't happen, though China still managed to score seven goals in the match against Hong Kong. The other funny game ended six-one favoring Kuwait, who then advanced from the group thanks to just one more goal scored for them.

China played three games in South Korea in 2002, but their dream of making a back-to-back World Cup appearance was thus shattered. Now, it was already mature to say that 2004 would end as a failure for Chinese football.

Only to make things even worse, the inaugural Super League also fell into disarray. In the shadow of the Olympic and World Cup Qualification defeats, domestic actions have been marred by match fixing, controversial officiating, bribery, gambling and violence. The dispute between Beijing's team Hyundai and the referee over the ejection of a Beijing player during the league match at Shenyang in early October turned out to be the very last straw.

The capital team's management ordered its players to boycott the remainder of the game, which was quickly ensued by the worst catastrophe in the eleven-year history of China's professional league.

The following weeks saw the governing body the Chinese Football Association readjusting its position several times, and super league clubs forming alliance in support of the Beijing team in calling for more independence and transparency.

Negotiations between the two sides have experienced several rounds of ups and downs, finger pointing and concession making. Though clubs are still groaning about the wording of their compromised deal, the authorities look to be in firm control at the end of the year.

As the CFA and club owners keep playing their bargaining game, fans are bored and beginning to settle more of their interest on European leagues.

Also pinning hope on Europe is the CFA who sent a teenaged team to Germany for better football environment. The so-called 08 Stars will live, train and play there before supposedly carrying greater hopes back to Beijing in four years time before the 2008 Olympics.

Fans maybe skeptical about the German incubating program, but they have reasons to prefer the chances for the women's team. It sort of came as a happy surprise when the Chinese Under 19-year-old team finished second in the World Youth Championship in Thailand.

Wang Haiming, coach of U-19 China Team, said, "I'm pleased to see that with the endeavors of the whole team, we've shown the world that our youth team is quite a promising one."

Editor:Chen Zhuo

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