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Welsh national side helping with Chinese soccer goals

By ANGUS McNEICE | China Daily Europe | Updated: 2017-12-11 18:02

Fans of the Welsh national soccer team have experienced some dizzying highs and disappointing lows in the last 18 months.

Fired by a talismanic generation of players that includes Real Madrid's Gareth Bale and Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey, The Dragons exceeded expectations to reach the semifinals of the UEFA European Championship in 2016.

It was the best result ever in a major tournament for the country of 3 million people that is part of the United Kingdom.

The team came down to earth in October when it failed to qualify for next year's World Cup.

"We missed a golden opportunity," said Jonathan Ford, the chief executive of the Football Association of Wales. "But, with the China Cup, we'll have some matches to basically reset the dials, take the team away, and get a fresh start."

On March 22, Wales will face China in the opening match of the second-ever China Cup in Nanning, in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. The competition sees hosts China pitted against three invited teams. Uruguay and the Czech Republic will join them in next year's competition. Iceland, Chile, and Croatia played in the inaugural competition.

Holding international soccer tournaments on home soil plays into President Xi Jinping's plans to grow the popularity of the game in China and transform the nation into a footballing powerhouse.

And the invitees share a common trait; they have all punched above their weight in major tournaments.

"We spoke to Iceland and we spoke to Croatia about the tournament and both came back with very positive experiences," Ford said. "With the China Cup, you're going to attract bigger teams-China is ensuring that they will continue to improve by playing against teams that are better."

Ford previously worked as head of sponsorship at Coca-Cola, and took over as chief executive of the Welsh FA in 2009. He has since overseen what he calls a "modernization" of almost every aspect of the operation.

Forging ties with China is an important part of the development of Welsh soccer, he said.

"We've worked quite extensively with different people in China, and we are getting close to signing partnership agreements on coach development programs," Ford said."We do it because it will help us develop as a nation too."

He said the development of coaching is among the most crucial elements of China's plans to compete with the world's best soccer-playing nations in the coming decades.

"It is a lofty goal, and it's about going back to the very basics of football," Ford said."You need facilities, and the Chinese government is investing copious amounts of money to make sure those facilities are there. You need new people who want to play, and the good news is, of course, football is becoming more engrained within Chinese society. And you need coaches, and that's where they struggle at the moment. They don't have the coaches in order to improve the people. That's where other national associations like Wales, a world-class coaching nation, can help."

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