Today is a baneful, humorless day for some of the newspapers that ran front page headlines on another humiliating defeat of 5-1 at home on Saturday for China’s football team against an under-strength team of youngsters from tiny Thailand. There’s hopeless despair, frantic questioning and anger at this latest flub, China’s third loss in a row. Although Chinese fans are quite used to China losing at football, the way the team capitulated against Thailand was (as the Oriental Guardian from Nanjing puts it today) “like a dagger deep into the heart of every Chinese football fan” (像一把尖刀深深地刺痛每一个球迷的心). Right at top of its front page, the Oriental Guardian today speculates on the reasons behind the sorry state of China’s national team, and asks “How many times do you still want to say sorry?” (The national team’s Weibo account said sorry after the 2-1 home loss to Uzbekistan on June 6).
The Nanyang Evening News from Henan today has only one word for the defeat: “Disgrace”. As the featured image illustrates, the newspaper’s front page today also has two other short descriptions for headline news: “Attitude” (态度) for the Snowden affair; and “Going separate ways” (分飞) for the Rupert and Wendi Murdoch divorce.
As we previously reported on Danwei, the Chinese football team (国足) last week arrived to a decidedly cold reception in the city of Hefei in Anhui province where the match against Thailand took take place this past Saturday. Not a single fan came to meet the team when they arrived at the hotel, but around 20,000 fans did go to the stadium in Hefei to see their team thrashed 5-1 by what was essentially a Thai youth team.
The sense of shame at the defeat is illustrated by the headline in today’s front page of the football-focused newspaper Sports Fans (球迷), which simply says “We look down in shame”. The front page of the Nanyang Evening News from Henan province today asks, “Where is the bottom of the national team’s failure?” Chinese fans have never had very high expectations for their national team, the paper says, but this performance was just beyond the pale.
This was clearly in accordance with the views of the fans who ventured out to the stadium in Hefei to watch their team be humiliated again. After the match there were angry scenes as the fans besieged the Chinese team bus and shouted slogans like “Camacho get out!” (卡马乔下课), “Disband the Chinese Football Association!” (足协解散) and “Disband the national team!” (国足解散)
The Oriental Guardian from Nanjing is one newspaper that today confronts the debacle head-on. In a thinly veiled attack on the national team’s seeming lack of passion, the newspaper’s front page displays an image of the players singing the national anthem before the game above an article (with a national flag in the background) discussing the side’s current predicament.
Essentially the Oriental Guardian posits three potential root causes of China’s football shame:
1. The team is not physically up to the task because the Chinese Super League is an inferior league
Some journalists observed after Saturday’s match that the players looked tired and not energetic enough. The newspaper quotes statistics cited by an expert on CCTV last night who claimed that on average, teams in China’s Super League are running 4,200 meters less per game compared to last season. This is part of a general problem with China’s local Super League in that it is not demanding enough of players and hence produces an inferior national team.
2. The coach is the problem
The Chinese team’s Spanish coach José Antonio Camacho has not had a happy two years in charge so far, and after the match accepted responsibility for the heavy defeat (although he said his staying or going is up to the Chinese Football Association). But even if the coach does resign, the Oriental Guardian asks, who on earth will want to grasp this hot potato? (谁来接这个烫手的山芋). And besides, there are so many problems in Chinese football that just changing the coach will likely not make much of a difference.
3. The players’ sense of honor is lacking
After watching the game, former player Hao Haidong (郝海东) – regarded as one of the best Chinese players ever – took to his Weibo to remind the players that they are playing for China, it doesn’t matter who the coach is. And clearly the horrible run of the team must be related to them having lost their sense of honor, but how did this happen? Maybe, Oriental Guardian says, this has to do with a lot more than just football.