China’s prospects at the 2018 World Cup

China is the world’s most populous nation with over 1.35 billion citizens. However, their vast numbers has not translated into having a good football team at the international level.

It’s quite a surprise that the massive country with an abundance of resources have only qualified once for the finals of a FIFA World Cup. Back in 2002 when Asia hosted its first ever World Cup, China, led by the legendary figure of Bora Milutinovic, qualified for the tournament. They were placed in Group C alongside Brazil, Turkey and Costa Rica.

It proved to be a fruitless World Cup, in terms of results at least, as they lost all three games to bow out of the competition at the first hurdle itself. Three World Cups have since passed and China are still looking to add to that first appearance at football’s premier event.

There is certainly no dearth of resources in the nation and the citizens are passionate about the game. The following of the Premier League is absolutely massive in the country and Chinese spectators can often be seen sitting in the stands of Stamford Bridge, the Emirates Stadium or Old Trafford on almost every weekend. The love for the game is absolutely huge in the country.

However, the love, passionate following and the resources have yet to translate into consistent performances at the international level. But things may change soon. Chinese president Xi Jinping is projected as a huge football fan, and he is trying his best to get the team to a level where they can qualify for World Cups on a regular basis.

Since Jinping took power in 2012, construction of football academies throughout the country has been undertaken. Advertisements for international coaches are being put up in the national newspapers as China attempts to build the game in the country from the ground up.

The recent influx of money in the Chinese Super League has seen it attract a lot of big names like Jackson Martinez from Atletico Madrid, Ramires from Chelsea and Alex Teixeira from Shakhtar Donetsk amongst others.

Chinese teams have also seen big names in coaching working their wares on their land with Sven-Goran Eriksson, Marcelo Lippi and Luiz Felipe Scolari prominent among them.

Eriksson, the former England manager, predicts that China could be challenging for the World Cup in just a decade’s time.

“The future for China is great”, he said recently at a press conference.

“I think I’m at the right place at the right time. You can always feel how football is growing in China.

“I’ve been in Italy during the 90s when every player wanted to come to Italy because the football was very good, then I was in England during the 2000s and all the players wanted to go to the Premier League because of more money and the good football.

“Now, in 2016, it seems that every player wants to come to China for the same reasons.

“[All the money] will make the clubs much stronger. Maybe 10 or 15 years ahead, I’m sure China’s national team will compete well [enough] to win the World Cup”, the Swede concluded.

China are currently third in their World Cup qualifying group behind Qatar and Hong Kong. They do not look particularly strong for World Cup qualification, but if they manage to do so, it will be a step in the right direction for the football-crazy nation.