HONG KONG (Reuters) - Chinese FA (CFA) president Chen Xuyuan has said the country’s soccer team remains well behind the game’s leading nations, but is confident head coach Li Tie is instilling the necessary traits in his squad to close the gap on Asia’s best.
Chen, who took the helm of the CFA last year, told state broadcaster CCTV on Saturday during China’s current training camp that they have yet to pull themselves into the upper echelon of the regional game despite significant investment.
“Realistically, this China national team for the training camp is far away from the world-class teams in quality,” he said. “At Asian level, we are a second or third-tier team.”
China have struggled to match the leading sides in Asia for a generation, with the country not qualifying for the World Cup since making their debut appearance in 2002 and last advancing to the Asian Cup final two years later, which they lost.
Huge sums have been spent to improve the team’s fortunes, with the CFA hiring World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi, only for the Italian to quit last November after a 2-1 loss to Syria in the second round of Asia qualifying for the 2022 World Cup.
That defeat left China second in their group, eight points behind Syria albeit with a game in hand and, with only top spot guaranteeing a place in the final qualifying phase, the chance of them missing out on yet another World Cup remains strong.
However, the Chinese could secure one of the four best runners-up spots which also offer a place in the next round.
Ex-Everton midfielder Li, 43, was made head coach this year after impressing in the Chinese Super League at Wuhan Zall and has continued to implement a policy that has seen a growing number of overseas-born players gain Chinese citizenship.
Four of the squad called up for the current camp were born outside China, with Guangzhou Evergrande central defender Tyias Browning – now known as Jiang Guangtai – the latest to be drafted into the squad.
China’s bid to keep their World Cup prospects alive is expected to resume in March when they face the Maldives in a campaign that has suffered delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the situation, Chen believes the team is moving forward and still hopes to reach the finals in Qatar.
“The national team has made progress in three perspectives,” he said.
“The first one is the mentality. You try 100% and make mistakes. That’s acceptable. It’s unforgivable if you don’t make enough effort.
“Second, under the tutelage of Li Tie, our training is more purposeful. Players have developed the right habits.
“Third, the players have learnt how to play football, like their positioning and their roles.”
Chen is hoping Li’s tactical work will bear fruit in the forthcoming fixtures that will decide whether China are good enough to feature on the world stage once again.
Reporting by Michael Church; Editing by Ken Ferris
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