AFC U23 Championship exit urges China to focus more on youth training

Source: Xinhua| 2018-01-18 10:22:29|Editor: Jiaxin
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By sportswriter Xiao Yazhuo, Wang Hengzhi

CHANGZHOU, China, Jan. 18 (Xinhua) -- It was the same old story for the Chinese U23 national team at the AFC U23 Championship tournament. Their campaign has been stopped after group stages for the third time, after a 2-1 defeat to Qatar in Changzhou on Monday.

China's last game against Qatar was just like their journey in the tournament - a disappointing end after a "dream start". When looking for a defining moment of the tournament for China, some commentators point to the unlucky effort from Wei Shihao in the game against Uzbekistan. The left winger could have earned the hosts a point if his injury-time attempt was just a few centimeters lower than the crossbar. However, it should be recognized that there is still a big gap between China and the top teams in Asia.

As tournament hosts, much was expected of Massimiliano Maddaloni's talented squad which featured six members of the senior national team. This is despite the fact that China has been knocked out at the group stage without any points in the past two editions of the competition.

But a 3-0 win over Oman in the first match was not enough to send them into the last eight. A narrow 1-0 defeat to an impressive Uzbekistan side saw the hosts drop to the third spot in Group A, a position which does not afford them a place in the next phase of the tournament.

"I feel disappointed by our performance (against Uzbekistan). We missed some chances that we had created, and I believe we were not at all calm during the match," Guangzhou Evergrande's rising star Tang Shi, said after the loss to the central Asia team.

Being not calm on the field did seem to be a problem for these youngsters. In their last match against Qatar, the players became anxious and lost their temper when the game was not on their side, even the captain He Chao was sent off after being handed a second yellow card before the break. This was the turning point in the match, as Qatar equalized just two minutes later.

Failing to qualify may not satisfy the players and the home fans, but this outcome cannot be described as a failure. After all, there was some improvement for China compared with the last two editions; at least they claimed their first victory of the tournament. The impressive performance from some of the promising talent in the team should comfort fans to some degree.

The 22-year-old Wei Shihao has been a real find for China in the tournament. The pacey left winger, who just sealed a permanent move to Chinese Super League side Beijing Guoan from Portugal's Leixoes, contributed one goal and one assist in the opening game against Oman.

The Anhui native spent the majority of the past year on loan at Shanghai SIPG where he was able to receive more game time thanks to CSL's U23 policy, which requires clubs to field at least two players under the age of 23 in each game. Wei made a name for himself in Japan in December at the East Asian Championship when he scored on his senior national team debut in their fixture against South Korea.

The three games in Changzhou have proved the young players have a strong desire to win, but their technical and tactical abilities are still far from the best in Asia. In the past season, some U23 players have improved a lot under the domestic league's U23 policy, but there is still a long way to go for them.

There was no need to criticize the players after the exit, just like there was no need to praise them excessively after the first match against Oman. To honestly confront the gap in quality and to concentrate on youth training are the most important goals for Chinese football.