Michael Burgess: Why are China so bad at football?
As the Asian Games has reinforced, China dominates the world in most global sports but its football team is still mysteriously poor.
Do you remember the goldrush at the Beijing Olympics? Team China garnered a staggering 51 gold medals, across a huge variety of sports. It has been a similar story at the Asian Games, where the Chinese national anthem has already been heard 166 times with still a few days to go.
China are giants, or sleeping giants, in just about every global sport in the world, except the one that matters the most.
A joke doing the rounds in China helps to sum up the parlous state of their football scene.
Three football fanatics, from Korea, Japan and China, get an audience with God and have just one question on their minds.
The Korean man approaches, wanting to know when his country will eventually win the World Cup.
"In 30 years time," is the answer and he walks away rubbing his eyes and crying.
When asked the same question by the Japanese, the heavenly father responds it will be 40 years before the land of the rising sun will taste football's ultimate glory.
Again, our Japan fan is aghast and wanders off in tears.
Finally the Chinese man approaches - "Lord can you tell us when China might win the World Cup?".
God considers this question for a moment then turns around and walks away, rubbing his eyes and crying.
Their latest loss, a 3-0 reverse at the Asian Games to South Korea, had fans in the stadium calling for the whole team and coach to be dismissed.
China's qualification for the 2002 World Cup was meant to signal the start of a golden age but it was a false dawn. China didn't score a goal and were sent packing with three straight losses.
After that the game went downhill in the Middle Kingdom. The team didn't come close to Germany in 2006 and there were regular embarrassing losses at regional level.
In the years prior to the Beijing Olympics the Chinese sports ministry even seemed to lose interest. With China already world-beaters in so many sports (gymnastics, diving, table tennis, and badminton) and making huge gains in others, why bother with the roundball game.
The sport seemed destined to slip into the abyss, especially with the regular corruption scandals that have permeated the sport.
But despite everything, the crowds kept coming; local league games would draw large fanatical crowds and there were even instances of trouble between rival fans.
Though badminton and table tennis have historical claims, football is the sport of the people. An estimated 170 million television sets were purchased around the country on the eve of the 2002 World Cup.
Alongside this, a keynote address in 2008 from the second most powerful man in the country, vice premier Wu Jiabao, put the football back on the agenda.
He pronounced that China "must" be good at football, given its importance and standing on the world stage.
All systems were go again, the Chinese Super League was born, a slight relaxation on import rules (allowing Chris Killen and Ivan Vicelich to represent Shenzen this year) and the national team were given more fixtures.
But still the malaise continues and only time will tell if China can one day rise to be a power in the world game. Manchester United legend Bobby Charlton ran a coaching clinic there this year and was equally mystified as to why the young talent has not blossomed.
A common local theory is that the Chinese are fine in teams of five or seven, but any more and the egos lose that bond so critical to success in team sport. It has gained some currency in China, but why doesn't it apply to the national hockey teams?
China must improve eventually. And given their political and economic power, their propensity for building incredible stadia and leaving no stone unturned in hosting tournaments, they must be at short odds to host the next time FIFA decide that Asia should stage the jewel in their crown.
Now that would be no laughing matter.
China suppose to be strongest in football in Asian like Brazil in South American based on population and yet it football team lose to rivals Japan and South Korea at home in Asian Games ,i wonder why China is sport superpower but it fail to become soccer super power even in Asian section, ?