Media outrage and mirth at China soccer team's abject loss

Humiliating 5-1 defeat by Thailand prompts harsh criticism from state media and inventive scorn from many commentators

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 June, 2013, 4:18am

Even for a country that has become accustomed to its soccer team losing, the crushing 5-1 defeat of the Chinese men's national team by lowly Thailand last weekend was too much to bear.

Thailand - ranked 47 places below China in the Fifa world rankings - hadn't even bothered to bring its best players to the friendly in Hefei , Anhui province. It filled seven roster spots with youth players, fielding a team with an average age of just 21.

The inexperienced squad nonetheless dealt China its most lopsided loss against an Asian team and its worst-ever result at home. The uneven scoreline baffled even Thailand's coach, who later told China Central Television he didn't know how his team won the match.

The state-run Xinhua News Agency proclaimed the match a "humiliation" and a "tragedy for Chinese football" on its official Sina Weibo account, even before the final whistle had blown.

It then ran an editorial entitled, "Chinese football wasted another chance to turn a new page". "Poor possession, poor teamwork and, most of all, no fighting spirit resulted in the most humiliating defeat in years for China's national men's soccer team," it said.

The agency said it was "not too much to use those bad words to describe the men's soccer team's performance, as the audience was shocked and understandably baffled".

Xinhua's harsh critique was among the mildest as the usually uncritical mainland media used the national disgust with the soccer team's performance as an opportunity to show its creativity in expressing outrage.

The Qianjiang Evening News summed up the loss with a single word: "Stink!" Another Zhejiang newspaper, the Today Morning Express, tried humour. "In soccer, you never know the result; but you always know what will happen in Chinese soccer," it said.

The Nanning Evening News called on the rocket used to carry Chinese astronauts into space to remedy the situation. "Shenzhou-10, please take the Chinese soccer team away from the soccer pitch," the paper said.

A lengthy headline in the Chongqing Economic Times said the national team's players were so fragile they would collapse if struck by spongy tofu. It suggested that they hit themselves with some and put themselves out of their misery.

"Would you allow your children to play soccer any more?" the Chongqing Times lamented.

The Beijing Evening News went straight at the players themselves, asking them: "Do you still have shame?" The Beijing Times even described the defeat as a "massacre", a provocative word to use just two weeks after the unspoken anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.

The media, of course, was merely channelling the national mood. Hordes of angry soccer fans took to the internet to express their loathing for country's team.

One Weibo commenter even suggested the poor performance had brought shame upon President Xi Jinping , a big soccer fan who happened to be celebrating his 60th birthday on the day of the match.

"Those players should get punished as they ruined the president's birthday party," the commenter said.

Xi himself had earlier this month mentioned the national team's lacklustre record during his visit to soccer powerhouse Mexico. "The Chinese soccer team has always been doing their best, but has had only one chance to enter the World Cup competition," he said during a speech to the Mexican congress.

But one popularly circulated Weibo post said the president probably now regretted being so charitable. "He might have changed his ideas and would say: 'The Chinese soccer team has always been playing their worst'," the commenter said.

Under mounting pressure, sports authorities have begun negotiating the departure of the national team's Spanish manager, Jose Antonio Camacho, according to CCTV.