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Goal of becoming a soccer powerhouse rests with youth

Updated: 2016-03-31 07:41
By Sun Xiaochen (China Daily)

Goal of becoming a soccer powerhouse rests with youth

Playmaker Huang Bowen (right) opens the scoring in the 58th minute against Qatar on March 29, 2016. [Photo by Wu Zhizhao/For China Daily]

While the dream of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup is alive, China has a long way to go to ensure international soccer success, something insiders say would get a boost from developing the game among the nation's youth.

After 15 years of waiting to see the national team qualify for a FIFA World Cup, China has made it to the final Asian qualifying round after beating group leader Qatar, 2-0, in a crucial pool-stage match on Tuesday in front of 5,000 cheering home fans in Xi'an.

The last time China qualified for a World Cup was in 2002, its only appearance to date.

Thanks to the win this week and other favorable results, China progressed to the final qualifying round as one of the four best second-placed teams.

Eight group leaders, including Japan, South Korea and Qatar, will be drawn into two groups with the four surviving runner-ups on April 12. Games will begin in September to find out which nations will get the four automatic qualifying spots for the Russia World Cup.

"China's poor international performance brought us only heartbreaking memories for years, so it's really exciting for us this time around to have something to cheer about. As long as the national team plays with guts and determination, as it did this time, we will support it forever, regardless of the outcome," said Wang Wen, chairman of Beijing Football Fan Club.

Among compliments on Wednesday, a lot of praise went to the team's interim head coach, Gao Hongbo, who was appointed by the Chinese Football Association after predecessor Alain Perrin, of France, was dismissed in January for the squad's poor performance.

Gao, a former national striker, took over when China was left with only a chance of advancing that depended on other teams' results.

In response to fans' appeals to the CFA to keep Gao for the final stage, rather than hiring another foreign coach, Gao said he hasn't received any calls from CFA yet but will be available whenever the team needs him, no matter which position he is offered.

As China aims to develop into a world soccer power - inspired by President Xi Jinping's wish to see it eventually win the World Cup - the celebrations for making it deep into the qualifying tournament and distractions about the appointment of a coach will need to give way to more focus on youth development at the grassroots level, said Jin Zhiyang, a renowned youth coach in Beijing.

"We need to invest more in building facilities, training local coaches and organizing student leagues than in praying for the 2018 World Cup. That is what will help the game to rise substantially," said Jin.

Gao echoed those comments at the post-match news conference on Tuesday.

"Our youth cultivation system should catch up, as well as the school promotion programs," he said.

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