China must boost investment in grass-roots programmes to succeed at soccer World Cup

Even President Xi Jinping talks of glory on the world stage but it will take work from the ground up to turn the dream into reality

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 January, 2016, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 January, 2016, 12:00am

A candidate for the top job in world soccer is likely to make all manner of promises to win office. Jordan’s Prince Ali al-Hussein has said that if he is elected president of Fifa, China would get the governing body’s full support in attracting top players and would one day host the World Cup.

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Such a claim is guaranteed to get every attention from the Chinese leadership; President Xi Jinping (習近平) has vowed the nation will not only hold the prestigious competition, but also qualify for the finals and win them.

Given the national team’s dismal record, which led last week to the sacking of manager Alain Perrin, that goal is for now a dream, although fully attainable if a budding youth programme can score successes.

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There is no doubt that China would be able to successfully stage the event, which is bigger than the Summer Olympic Games by every measure except the number of sports involved. The 2008 Beijing Olympics were stunning proof of an ability to plan, organise and hold a major international competition to the highest standards. The corruption scandal that has engulfed Fifa has delayed the bidding process for the 2026 World Cup and China would be a suitable candidate. As the host country, its team would automatically qualify for the tournament.

Chinese well know, though, that much work has to be done before the national team can grace so high profile a stage. It has been humbled and humiliated too many times by lesser teams, only once qualifying for the World Cup, in 2002, and then losing all three games without scoring a goal.

Perrin’s sacking after 23 months in the job was tied to the team’s campaign for the 2018 World Cup in Russia; two embarrassing, goalless draws against Hong Kong and a 1-0 loss to Qatar have all but put paid to its hopes of taking part.

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But continued investment in the grass-roots programme of soccer schools and overseas coaches, coupled with improving standards in domestic leagues, offers every chance that, by 2026, China will have a team worthy of competing beside the best in the world.