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Challenge and glory ahead for China at Hangzhou Asian Games

Xinhua | Updated: 2023-09-18 10:18
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HANGZHOU - Following a series of lackluster performances, China's football sees a prime opportunity at the Hangzhou Asian Games to start anew.

The football competition begins on Tuesday, four days before the opening ceremony.

China's men's football team has struggled at the Asian Games. Their pinnacle was in 1994, finishing as runners-up. Since then, they've exited in the Round of 16 in the last three consecutive editions.

According to the rules, men's teams at the Hangzhou Asian Games can include players born on or after January 1, 1999, with three over-age players allowed. For women's teams, there's no age limit.

Twenty-two men's teams are divided into six groups. The top two from each group, along with the four best third-place finishers, will move to the elimination phase.

Under head coach Dejan Djurdjevic, many on the 22-man roster have significant Chinese Super League experience. Players like Zhu Chenjie and Dai Weijun are national senior team regulars.

Since Djurdjevic's appointment in February, he's held three training camps. The high expectations from home fans have undoubtedly placed pressure on the Serbian coach.

"We have prepared for Hangzhou Asian Games for six months and are looking forward to this campaign. We are ready to play seven games and let the 22 players develop chemistry on the pitch," Djurdjevic noted.

"As a veteran, I hope that my experience will help, and push the young players to go further," said Tan Long, one of the over-age players.

Djurdjevic's team will face India on Tuesday in their Group A opener. This will be followed by matches against Myanmar and Bangladesh. Given the last two teams' perceived lesser threat, the opening game against India, led by their 39-year-old captain Sunil Chhetri, is essentially a contest for the top group spot.

If China tops the group, they'll likely advance to the quarterfinals. However, they could face a formidable opponent in Group E's winner, likely South Korea.

South Korea, gold medalists in the last two Asian Games, is aiming for a third title, especially since an Asian Games win can offer military service exemptions. Their roster includes notable players like PSG's Lee Kang-in and Stuttgart's Jeong Woo-yeong.

Japan, another contender, fielded a team mainly consisting of university players and youth academy talents, but Japan's depth has given head coach Go Oiwa confidence in securing their first Asian Games title since 2010.

Similarly, Japan's women's football team features fresh faces, with only Remina Chiba having played the 2023 Women's World Cup as a substitute with a three-minute cameo appearance.

In contrast, China's women's team, narrowly defeated by Japan in the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games final, boasts a formidable lineup. Head coach Shui Qingxia has largely retained the roster from this year's World Cup, reflecting their determination to reclaim their esteemed status.

China's women's team has experienced highs and lows post-Jakarta. After a Round of 16 exit in the 2019 World Cup and a disappointing Tokyo Olympics, they clinched the Asian Cup in 2022. However, a recent World Cup group phase exit was a historic low.

"Maybe we will never talk about the World Cup again even if we have not got rid of it completely, because we have no time to regret and there is an arduous assignment ahead of us, with so many fans supporting us, we have to put up a good show," said midfielder Yang Li'na.

Shui echoed Yang's sentiments, emphasizing the need for communication to understand players' mental and physical states and to prepare for the upcoming matches.

"We should figure out how to overcome the predicament when we are confronted with difficulties, more importantly, we should put more effort in training and playing, returning the favor to our fans," Shui said. 

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