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Under-19 side sinks to historic low point

By SHI FUTIAN | China Daily | Updated: 2019-11-12 09:13
China Under-19 head coach Cheng Yaodong. [Photo/Xinhua]

China Under-19 head coach Cheng Yaodong delivered a damning assessment of the country's youth ranks after his team failed to qualify for the AFC U-19 Championship for the first time in 25 years.

A 4-1 defeat to South Korea in Yangon, Myanmar, ended China's chances of reaching next year's tournament.

With two wins and a defeat, China finished second in Group I but failing to secure a qualification spot as one of the four best runners-up.

"Since the coaching team took over the team three months ago, we've gradually become more familiar with the squad and prepared them for this qualifier. We have to say, the result is expected," said Cheng.

"We were stronger than the first two opponents and performed to our strengths. Even for the third game, I still believe our players tried hard... but we have to admit that the South Korean team was much stronger than us.

"South Korea's youth training level is not only leading Asian soccer, it has been also very strong worldwide."

And Cheng cannot see China closing the gap any time soon.

"For now, Chinese soccer has no advantages compared to other Asian teams," added the coach. "If we organize ourselves well, we might have an outside chance to beat a strong Asian team.

"But if we only count on the current generation of young players, it will be very tough for us. After all, soccer is about a squad's strength in depth.

"Even now we do not have a great foundation, and we still have to try hard to develop Chinese soccer."

The Under-19 team that was defeated on Sunday was the same side that lost 3-0 to a South Korea Under-18 side at May's Panda Cup tournament in Chengdu.

The Koreans were ultimately stripped of the title after one of their players posed for a photograph with his foot on the trophy, interpreted as an act of arrogance and disrespect.

The episode left a bitter taste for the Chinese squad, however even with that incident providing motivation, China could not avenge that humiliation.

Sunday's historic low has caused shock waves back home, with an article on chinanews.com summing up the sense of doom and gloom. It read: "This generation of players, who were born in 2001, grew up in an era when Chinese soccer's youth development stagnated.

"Considering such an environment, the result is now very obvious. This shows that Chinese soccer is paying its debt. As for when the debt will be paid off, that will only come the next time that China's youngsters qualify for the AFC U-19 Championship."

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