Chinese soccer coach apologizes over soccer defeat amid public outcry

Chinese team coach Li Xiaopeng has apologized to for the Chinese team’s “humiliating” defeat to Vietnam in the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers in Hanoi, amid a chorus of criticism from soccer fans online.

Vietnam beat China on Feb. 1, the first day of the Lunar New Year, by three goals to one after a match in which the Chinese players were “nervous,” Li said in a statement on the team’s official Weibo account. Both teams had already been eliminated from the finals in Qatar.

“I apologize to all of our fans and also to the players,” he said. “The main reason for this loss was that there was a problem with game strategy dating to before the match, that couldn’t be corrected in follow-up.”

“The … players tried their best, but may have been super-nervous due to being over-motivated,” Li said. “[But] the score was unacceptable.”

Fans piled onto the post with scathing comments on Wednesday.

“Behind the skyscrapers, everything is in ruins, and tears behind all the song and dance,” user @freedominside wrote, while @Yang_Tracy called on the team to disband.

“You don’t respect football, then football won’t respect you,” @herdingwhale opined, while @Flower_Gardener_SYSY called Chinese men’s soccer the “rat shit” polluting national sport.

Vietnamese fans took to social media to burn China on the loss, often while acknowledging their own team’s inadequacies.

“It’s unsure whether we can beat anyone else, but this win over our ‘golden friend’ is hilarious,” one fan said in a message posted to RFA’s Facebook page, referring to a term used by state media to describe China and its relationship to Vietnam.

Another fan, who identified themself as @Van Vu, also congratulated his team on the victory.

“The Vietnamese Football Team beat ‘the golden friend’ team. I wonder whether they should get an award from Vietnam’s president or what,” they wrote.

Call for reforms

Rather than lambast their team, some Chinese supporters suggested it was time for a rethink on China’s national soccer program.

@Moyu Moyu called for a fairer approach: “We fans … know how to criticize, but not many of us can play football,” they wrote, while @Shen_Jing_Boya_2020 called on the government to “rectify” Chinese men’s soccer and cultivate fresh, young talent from among the nation’s youth.

“The best thing the Chinese soccer team has ever done is to open comments under its official Weibo account!”, @herdingwhale wrote, while @Yang_Tracy said the national soccer establishment under the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was “hopelessly rotten from top to bottom.”

@bluesism said they wanted to “break up” with the team. “I’m totally speechless,” the user wrote, while @Fai Tsai GOAL said all the Chinese Football Association ever did was “spout slogans in Mandarin, rather than following the rules of football.”

“What has it actually achieved in the past decade?” they wrote.

@Wandering fish in the air 2121 appeared to agree: “You are more of an embarrassment than the rulers of the late Qing dynasty!” they wrote.

Hong Kong soccer coach Chan Yuk Chi agreed with the fans’ criticism of the state soccer establishment.

“China certainly doesn’t lack talent when it comes to soccer; the problem is the lack of an organized approach,” Chan told RFA. “Even a country that is fairly sparsely populated like Iceland can put up a national team.”

He said Chinese athletes tend to excel more under the CCP-backed sports development system at more individual sports like table tennis.

“In football, you need tactics and teamwork [as well as skill],” Chan said.

Even CCP leader Xi Jinping has complained, calling five years ago for reforms of China’s soccer coaching and selection processes, in a centralized and organized manner used by other national sports development bodies to bring in young talent.

Scrutiny on training

Chan said youth training was the key to a successful national soccer program.

“You have to do a good job at the grassroots level before you can build on that,” he said. “We need to set up and improve our youth training system — problems with the youth training plan … were made apparent during the match.”

He compared China’s selection and training processes with Japan and South Korea, where young players are continually emerging at the highest levels of the sport.

“I think Japan and South Korea play to fixed tactical strategies, and more importantly, they are obedient to team tactics,” he said.

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