Tuesday, February 16, 2010

China's win - what does it mean?

Two days after China's East Asian Championship victory, it's time to reflect on just what the success means for a country that has long flattered to deceive on the international scene while domestically the game has been a shambles for longer than most people care to remember.

The positive outpourings from Beijing were to be expected although it would be foolish to suggest the new regime at the Chinese Football Association had any real hand in what transpired in Tokyo. The people who deserve all the credit are Gao Hongbo and his team, who played in a style that had long looked lost to the Chinese. The confident, vibrant counterattacking display against the South Koreas, in particular, was a revelation.

But where does Chinese football go from here? When the national team won the same competition back in 2005, having also failed the previous year to go through to the final phase of Asia's World Cup qualifying tournament, there was little or no progress. Depressingly, China slipped back into the old habits that have, for so long, seen football struggle to realise its potential in the world's most populous nation.

The hope for the Chinese game - and through it the further development of Asian football as a whole in the future - has to be that the win will instill a degree of confidence that has long been missing, not only within the national team but also in the country's clubs.

Next week will see Changchun Yatai, Beijing Guoan, Henan Jianye and Shandong Luneng kick off their Asian Champions League campaigns and how they fair will perhaps provide a better indication of the health of the Chinese game than three games played in Tokyo in February.

No one within China will want to see a repeat of last year's disappointing performances, when none of the nation's clubs progressed to the knockout phase of the competition, even though qualification from the group stages was made easier with the insertion of a Round of 16. That change in the format of the competition allowed the top two teams from each group to advance, but none of the Chinese Super League sides were good enough to qualify.

A repeat of those performances will eliminate much of the positivity that is currently being felt in China. Add in the potential of more unseemly revelations as a result of the investigation into bribery and corruption, and it's fair to say Chinese football is a long way from being out of the woods.

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