Chinese hearts 'frozen' after U23 Asian Cup draw

By Hoang An   November 24, 2023 | 07:19 pm PT
Chinese hearts 'frozen' after U23 Asian Cup draw
China at the 2022 World Cup qualifiers against Australia in 2021. Photo by Reuters/Ibraheem Al Omari
Media opinions in China are pessimistic about their football team at the U23 Asian Cup as the squad are matched up against serious heavies in group B like Japan, South Korea and the UAE.

At the national team level, all four group B teams have participated in the World Cup before, so the combination of competitors has been referred to as "the group of death."

China U23 played two friendly matches with Tajikistan on Nov. 19 and 22, losing 1-2 and drawing 0-0. The result for fans has been a widespread loss of faith in coach Cheng Yaodong and his squad.

Chinese newspaper Shandong commented that "the hearts of Chinese fans were frozen" after the draw.

"We are in the same group as Japan and South Korea, and everyone knows what that means," according to the outlet.

News site Modern Express+ said that China were unlucky to fall into a group in which their three opponents are the strongest in each seeded group.

But the Chinese media has also by and large blamed the team for not making it past the 2022 U23 Asian Cup qualifiers, which put them among the last seeds of the 2024 tournament. According to regulations, the selection of seeded groups is based on the results of the previous tournament.

Sina, one of China's largest newspapers, with monthly online visits exceeding 100 million according to SimilarWeb, has opined that China's chance of qualifying for the 2024 Olympics are "really slim."

"Group B will make it quite challenging for China to advance to the quarterfinals," it said.

However, some opinions are more positive.

Football expert Ma Dexing, deputy editor-in-chief of Titan Sports Weekly, believes that being in the same group as strong teams like South Korea or Japan is sometimes a good thing for China.

Ma took the U20 Asian Cup in March 2023 as an example, when China were placed into a group with Japan, Saudi Arabia and Kyrgyzstan. He said that everyone thought China would exit early, but they beat Saudi Arabia to enter the quarterfinals.

"Since China are not under any pressure at the U23 Asian Cup, who dares to say that we have absolutely no chance to advance," Ma wrote.

The U23 Asian Cup takes place every two years. The 2024 U23 Asian Cup will take place from April 15 to May 3 in Qatar, with 16 teams divided into four groups to play in a round-robin format.

The top three teams in the tournament will qualify for the 2024 Olympic Paris, while the fourth-placed team will face Guinea in a playoff to compete for the remaining spot at the Olympics.

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