2018 Fifa World Cup Asian qualifying

‘Should Chinese football start from scratch?’ asks state media after another World Cup qualifying defeat

People’s Daily wonders aloud if Chinese Super League boom has masked underlying failings

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 October, 2016, 9:53am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 October, 2016, 11:32pm

“Should Chinese football start from scratch?” state media is asking in the wake of the national team’s latest World Cup qualifying defeat, which claimed the scalp of the coach.

China lost 2-0 to Uzbekistan in Tashkent, a defeat that realistically ends their hopes of qualifying for Russia 2018, even with six fixtures remaining.

China have taken only one point from four matches, a home draw with Iran.

Coach Gao Hongbo announced his resignation at the post-match press conference. “I will leave the national team because of poor health,” he said, having taken the reins for a second time in February.

Gao’s tactics and team selection were criticised, but the People’s Daily pointed out: “Could even Ferguson, Mourinho or Guardiola get results with this group of players?”

The state newspaper wondered if the boom in the big-money Chinese Super League has masked deep-seated failings in the national game.

President Xi Jinping has demanded the country become a football superpower, and the CSL has spent huge sums in attracting foreign stars to China.

Gao had discussed his future with Chinese FA bosses before the game, according to mainland media reports.

“We agreed if we couldn’t reach a positive result against Uzbekistan I would stand down from my post,” he was quoted as saying on the AFC’s website.

“As a result of this defeat, I bring an end to my time in charge of the China national team.”

China have only ever qualified for one World Cup and are ranked 78th in the world.

“Now that qualification is only a theoretical possibility should Chinese football go back to square one ?” asked the People’s Daily in a column.

“Perhaps this is too extreme, but think about whether the false Chinese football boom has covered up too many issues,” the news outlet continued.

They pointed out that despite the billions of yuan spent on foreign players and Guangzhou Evergrande winning the AFC Champions League, Chinese football was still “marking time or going backwards”.

England were held up as an example of a country with an impressive football league but poor national team.

And it was pointed out that though some in China may “laugh” at Japan and South Korea for their domestic leagues’ lack of big names, “half of their players play abroad while China only has 19-year-old Zhang Yuning struggling in the Netherlands”.

Xinhua did not bid a fond farewell to Gao, 50, a popular star when he was a player.

“Gao failed to mould an effective formation nor playing style for the Chinese team and all his tries ended in vain.

“Although there are still six matches remaining, the performances of the Chinese team have not given the fans any hope,” they wrote.

Sohu Sports made similar complaints about the big-money CSL as they bemoaned a “slaughter of [national] face” and said “Chinese football is full of holes”.

They pointed to a “match-fixing” scandal this week in an under-11 game and asked how the game could grow from such bad roots.

Sina Sports said the vast sums of money in Chinese football would hold back home-grown players from testing themselves abroad, saying “you may have forgotten teenage dreams ... and would rather stay in the country to not miss out on the gold rush.”

China’s next game is in little over a month, against Qatar in Kunming, with many commentators suggesting the team should now use the remaining games to start building for the future.

Many fans defended Gao on Weibo, preferring to blame the CFA and the players.

There have been calls for CFA president Cai Zhenhua to step down from his post, which he has so far ignored.

Earlier this year, China unveiled a masterplan to become a “football superpower” by 2050, while President Xi Jinping has demanded the team qualify for, host, and win a World Cup in the coming decades.