Asian Cup a test for China's new approach

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 January, 2011, 12:00am

A lack of belief has often been seen as one of the reasons for China's failings on the footballing stage, but head coach Gao Hongbo will take his team into the 2011 edition of the Asian Cup preaching another mantra altogether.

Successive Chinese teams have struggled at Asian level and the national team's fortunes have been in the doldrums since China last reached the final of the Asian Cup in 2004.

Victory at the East Asian Championship in Japan in February last year, however, went some way towards reversing that trend and now Gao will take a squad boasting many of the team that won the regional title into their opening game against Kuwait.

But to succeed, Gao knows a new way of playing had to be found for China to have any hope of matching the leading nations in Asia. 'Self-confidence is one of the problems that we have had in the past, but it's only one of the problems we have had. I think the biggest problem ... is that we didn't have a good direction or a good football style, so I believe this tournament is a good test to see if this style is good enough for our team.'

China will certainly find out soon enough if they have what it takes to compete at Asian level with a side that remains relatively inexperienced at the international level.

The Kuwaitis are the reigning West Asian champions, also won the prestigious Gulf Cup in Yemen in December and are being seen as an outside bet for the title after their recent run of form.

The mainlanders, meanwhile, have been written off in many quarters, both at home and around the tournament but in a group that also features hosts Qatar and former Soviet republic Uzbekistan, Gao's team retain a realistic chance of progressing to the knockout phase.

The need to balance the pros and cons of fielding a young side at a tournament such as the Asian Cup are not lost on 23-year-old winger Yu Hai but the former Vitesse Arnhem midfielder realises success begets success.

'We have to find a way to show the advantages that come from being a young team and make sure that we avoid the pitfalls, and that's the big test we face,' Yu said.

'The biggest change within the team is the self-management of the players. Chinese football at the minute isn't in a good situation, so we have to work hard to change something and make a contribution for Chinese football.

'I think every success, no matter if it is big or small, whether it is the Asian Cup or something else, can help Chinese football change.'