Life isn't getting any easier for Chinese football fans. Despite playing in Shanghai against a team whose country's population is less than a fifth of Shanghai's, China's men's Olympic team lost its London 2012 qualifier to Oman, 1-0. (Oman humiliates China in Shanghai — China Daily) The Chinese team gets another shot Thursday, this time in the scorching summer sun of Oman. China's women's team is usually a bright spot in the country's football program, but they failed to qualify for the 2011 Women's World Cup, which starts next week in Germany.
Yao Ming: "I do not dare say I am optimistic right now."
After saying a few weeks ago that he badly wants his daughter to see him play in the NBA, Yao Ming seems to be preparing his fans and his team for the likelihood that his playing days are over. Speculation about the big man's retirement has been building since after the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, when he managed to recover from a foot fracture to compete. Despite Houston's strategy last season of limiting his playing time to less than half of each game, he didn't even make it through November. Yao's contract expires June 30 – don't be surprised if you see the Houston Rockets select a center with the 12th pich in the NBA Draft Thursday night in Newark.
Action sports' prospects in China
We're a little late to share this with you, but it's still relevant. Thoughtful China, a new weekly online show from branded content creator Thoughtful Media dedicated to analysis of Chinese business news and trends, recently did a piece on action sports. Coming on the heel of the Kia XGames Asia, held in Shanghai for the fifth time, the show looks at the growth of these sports here, through the eyes of some figures in China's sports business world. Appearing on the show are Harvey Davis, ESPN's vice president of event management; Chien Hwang, executive creative director at TBWA China; and Eric Lai, sports marketing manager, China at Converse. Perhaps the best observation on the show comes from Hwang, who notes that brands that help foster the growth of a sport in China will see a much bigger return than those that wait for a sport to catch on before investing in it.
To watch from inside China, here's the GFW-friendly link
To watch from outside China, here's the Youtube-friendly link
Tags: action sports, football, Kia XGames, NBA, soccer, Yao Ming
Yesterday, though, the latest contingent to stop in China's capital was a little different. It was somewhat of a homecoming for Ed Wang, who became the NFL's first player of full Chinese descent to play in the NFL after the Buffalo Bills drafted him last year. Wang (whose Chinese name is Wang Kai, or 王凯）visited Beijing along with Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Sidney Rice, and retired players Barrett Green and Jack Brewer.
As the players mixed it up in a flag football game with local college students, and tossed balls with a group of kindergartners, I had a great chat with Ed's parents, Nancy and Robert, who were taking in the scene together with some of their former teammates and friends.
The Wangs were on China's national track and field team in the 1970s and 1980s, and played a big role in Ed's development as an athlete, as detailed by this excellent article from The Buffalo Story Project (The Rookie: Chinese, and in the NFL). "Nancy was in charge of his speed training, and I took care of weightlifting," Rob says. Ed loves the game himself, but his parents did encourage him to play football, based on his size and athletic gifts (he now stands 6'4" and weighs over 300 pounds). Robert adds that he wishes he had had the chance to play the game himself; he was an accomplished high jumper, and most of his team sport experience was in handball.
Football, American-style, only has a tiny fan base in China. But Robert Wang is a ready evangelist for the sport, and believes it has a good chance to catch on in his birth country. "There is no question about it. Football is the best game in the world," he says. "It's the ultimate team sport, and it teaches kids discipline and toughness. These are things Chinese parents want for their kids today."
Can football really catch on in China? It's a question I hear often, and there are certainly some characteristics that make the sport a difficult sell in this market. The game is violent, and people here seem to show a general preference for games with less contact. It's also a complex game, not easily understood by the casual viewer, which has yet to catch on outside of North America.
Ed's parents, much more familiar with China than their son, don't think that either of these are deal-breakers for the sport here. "Injury is part of sport," says Nancy, whose hurdling career was plagued by injuries. "Just because the percentages are higher in football, that's not a reason not to play." As for the game's opacity, the Wangs have fielded questions about rules and strategy from their old friends throughout their son's career, and say that, once people learn a little, the game's intricacy adds to its appeal.
After a losing season in which he saw limited action, Ed's offseason focus needs to be on his own game, not the future of the sport in the country where his parents grew up. But at the end of the afternoon at Beijing's Shijingshan Gymnasium, he said what he had seen Tuesday made him optimistic. "To be honest, I had no idea there were organized groups playing here," he says. "If you understand the game, of course you start to enjoy it more."
If you want to know more about Wang's path to the league, the above-mentioned The Rookie: Chinese, and in the NFL, from The Buffalo Story Project, is an excellent profile.
Tags: Ed Wang, football, NFL, 王凯
Despite the early exit, the Chinese federation still wants coach Gao Hongbo to continue to lead the team in its quest to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The team will, however, look to hire a "foreign technical consultant," according to a report from Xinhua, quoting Chinese Football Association chief Wei Di: "The CFA officials have agreed that it's necessary for China's soccer to have some great coaches of our own. So we decided to go abroad and to invite a coach for the coaches," he said.
Zhang Linpeng image: Xinhua
Tags: Asian Cup, football, Gao Hongbo, soccer
Milutinovic is not the only former Chinese national team coach at the Asian Cup — England's Bob Houghton, who coached China from 1997 to 1999, is leading India.
The Chinese team, coached by Gao Hongbo (高洪波), is the country's youngest national team ever. Its two goals against Kuwait came from 21-year-old Zhang Linpeng and 22-year-old Deng Zhuoxiang.
China's final Group A game will be Sunday, January 16 against Uzbekistan.
Gao Hongbo image: YHNEWS.com.cn
Tags: AFC Asian Cup, football, soccer
China lost its first game to Japan by a score of 3-0 (do I even need to explain how serious that rivalry is?), and then, against Krygyzstan, missed a few great scoring opportunities and needed two late goals to win 2-1. Now China needs at least a draw in its third preliminary game in order to make it to the knockout round. They play Malaysia Saturday at 7:00 p.m. Beijing time at Tianhe Stadium in Guangzhou.
The football team also had a little off-field drama this week when goalkeeper Wang Dalei lashed out at fans on a microblogging site, and was suspended and compelled to issue a public apology. "It would be flattery to call you fans," Wang wrote "You're just a bunch of dogs. I never hold back what I want to say. It's because of you bunch of SB [Chinese curse word] that Chinese football can't make any progress."
Days later, Wang apologized and begged for "another chance": "I apologize sincerely to the media and supporters of the whole nation for my unpleasant words, which damaged the image of the football team, sports and China. "It's my fault. I hope you can forgive me and give me another chance." said Wang (watch his statement on Titan24.com.
Cai Jiadong, secretary-general of China's Asian Games delegation, brought out a favorite Chinese expression for the occasion, saying Wang had been "unsportsmanlike and irrational and hurt the feelings of Chinese soccer fans."
China women's team opens play Saturday against Jordan, 7:00 p.m. at University Town Main Stadium, with higher hopes than the men.
Wang Dalei image: CNR.cn
Tags: Asian Games, football, soccer, Tianhe Stadium, Wang Dalei
Wild East Football, a must-read during the Chinese Super League season.
Feng Ren Liang (冯仁亮) first caught the eye of your correspondent, and those of everyone else present one April evening in Hongkou Stadium in Shanghai. The occasion was Shanghai Shenhua's first home game of the season against Hangzhou Greentown. The 21-year-old winger, making his home debut, stood out that day, not only for scoring a well-placed long range goal, but also for his deft first touch, pace and excellent close control. In a league lacking quality, one might argue that even players of modest flair might stand out. But it was clear Feng was at least a cut above the average Chinese CSL player.
Joining Shenhua during the close season from 3rd tier Tianjin Locomotive, he's already cemented his place in Shenhua's first team, and it was no surprise to see him start his first game for the Chinese national team last Tuesday night against Paraguay, in a match which ended 1-1. The video clip doesn't show all that much of Feng in action but it does show his pinpoint cross for former Shanghai Shenhua striker Gao Lin to head in the equalizer, some neat footwork, and Feng testing the Paraguayan keeper with a shot from outside the box. It also features an interview with Feng himself, plus Chinese NT national coach Gao Hongbo who says Feng "has brought Chinese football some new hope". Feng made his international debut as a substitute in China's 1-1 draw with Bahrain last month.
It is of course early days for Feng. Your correspondent was tempted to highlight him earlier in the season, but thought better of it – false dawns and Shanghai Shenhua go together like Laurel and Hardy. However, with him elevated to the Chinese national team after playing just half a season of professional football, the future is looking bright for Feng, and possibly for Chinese football, if they can produce more players of his quality. Your correspondent doesn't like to make predictions, but a successful career at a big club in Europe beckons for Feng if he can sustain this level of progression for the next season or two. Time will tell. But he is one of the most exciting prospects to come out of China in quite some time. It would probably be in his best interests to spend another couple of seasons at Shenhua to get more pro experience, right now he is a little raw and his crossing and shooting could use a little tightening up.
Feng also appeared for China in last Friday's 2-0 defeat at home to west Asian powerhouse Iran, coming off the bench to earn his second cap. Most Chinese fans seemed to regard the defeat as yet another shambolic result. Seeing as it was at home, it's hard to argue. But it wasn't a disaster. Anyway, after Tuesday night's draw with Paraguay and Feng's sparkling display, the Chinese football world is looking up again, for the time being at least, building on victories over South Korea (for the first time ever) and France earlier this year.
Feng Ren Liang – remember the name.
Tags: Cameron Wilson, CSL, Feng Renliang, football, soccer
The closest that China's favorite team is getting to the FIFA World Cup this time around is last week's warmup game against France, which underdog (understatement!) China won 1-0 on a free kick goal from Deng Zhuo Xiang in the 68th minute.
But this country has had plenty of time to adjust to its absence from the 2010 World Cup, and there are plenty of fans here supporting Italy, Argentina, England, Brazil and Spain—any team that's a contender has a fan base in China.
This is the biggest sporting event since the Olympics, and bars are looking to cash in with viewing parties galore over the next month. Here's a quick breakdown of some great sources of information on where to watch:
Beijing Boyce is the capital's most prolific eating and drinking blogger. Lucky for us, Boyce is also a sports fan. Here's his extensive list of place to watch the World Cup. He's also got recommendations on where to buy country flags and gear, and no doubt will be reporting on the viewing experience once the games start.
The Beijinger doesn't seem to have a direct link to a list of viewing options, but bars will upload their promotions here, and users will chime in on
the best places to watch.
City Weekend's Beijing and Shanghai sites both have World Cup pub guides. Charles Silverman (Beijing) highlights the best places to watch outdoors, the hidden sports spots, and some swanky joints for fans with deep pockets. CW Shanghai offers a quick list of bars, and tips on where to buy face paint and jerseys.
Finally Kunming, my Chinese hometown, seems to have come a long way in sports broadcasts in the past two years. GoKunming's list is evidence that Chapter One now has a lot of competition for fans who don't want to watch alone at home.
Tags: FIFA World Cup, football, soccer, sports bars
China's Zheng Jie (seeded 18th) beat Maria Sharapova (seeded 10th) at the BNP Paribas Open, 6-2, 2-6, 6-3. Sharapova was battling injuries in the match at Indian Wells.
Wei Di, the new chief of the Chinese Football Association, has introduced the apparently unpopular idea of entering China's under-21 national team as the 17th side in the Chinese Soccer League, to give those young players more time playing together. He hopes the plan will help him reach his self-imposed goal of qualifying a team for the FIFA World Cup in 2014, without dismantling the centrally planned football development system. The CSL begins play next week.
Gold medal-winning speed skater Zhou Yang angered some sports officials when she thanked her real mother and not Mother China (Reuters). David Yang at China Sports Review argues that the state has a point.
Tags: basketball, CBA, football, Mengke Bateer, soccer, tennis, Wei Di, Zheng Jie
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