By Sportswriter Yao Youming
WEINAN, China, April 9 (Xinhua) -- Spain's Antonio Puche Vicente's success in leading China's under-16 side to two big wins at the Silk Road Huashan Cup has given Chinese football fans a long-overdue reason to be cheerful.
Long ago, at the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship, China qualified for the knockout stages as group winners and were regarded as the best youth team in Asia at that time.
However, since then, China have failed to qualify for the event over the following 14 years, and four years ago, the country's under-16 team suffered the ignominy of being thrashed 4-0 by rivals South Korea on home soil.
"We were happy when we saw the young talents' good performances before 2005, but we can hardly be happy now," lamented an Internet user named "Boiled Water" on China's popular Hupu chatroom.
But when Puche's side routed Myanmar 5-0 in their first game at the Silk Road Huashan Cup, Chinese fans quickly realised that this team was different.
"I think the young players played better than our senior national team," joked netizen "eric0566".
Following on from their first success, China then scored a big 6-0 victory against Kyrgyzstan on Monday, throwing Chinese fans into a frenzy.
"I've never seen China's footballers possess such good dribbling, passing and scoring skills. This is the dawn of Chinese soccer," gushed internet user "Changlecsu" in China's "All football" chatroom.
In 2015, the Chinese government announced an extensive reform plan for football, setting a long-term goal of turning the country into a footballing powerhouse. Some fans believe that the under-16's surprising overperformance has proved that China are benefiting from the new measures.
"These young talents are the first generation of players to have benefited from China's reform in football," said internet user "Old Seven".
"There are many elite young Chinese players being trained in Spain," Puche told Xinhua on Monday. "One of my tasks is to discover these teenagers and ask them to play for China. There are many options for me in the establishment of a young team."
But Chinese fans have seen many promising talents fail to live up to their potential in the past two decades. Dong Fangzhuo, who signed for Manchester United in 2004 at just 19, failed to make the grade at Old Trafford and subsequently faded into obscurity, scoring only one goal for the Chinese national team across his entire career.
And there are many Chinese football fans urging a note of caution on the future of the under-16 team.
"The Chinese players were born in the year 2003, and are one year older than the other three teams in the Huashan Cup. So we should be guarded in our optimism over their wins," a tencent netizen "Frozen" said.
"I am very happy that I see that my players know how to attack, and how to create chances. That is more important than the end result," said Puche.
"I want to establish a team which has its own style of play. It will take us a long time, we should have lots of training. But we will go forward with complete confidence in the eventual victory," he added.