Ball Out of Play
A nation of football lovers, China lacks a team strong enough to reach the FIFA World Cup
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UPDATED: June 30, 2014 NO. 27 JULY 3, 2014
Ball Out of Play
A nation of football lovers, China lacks a team strong enough to reach the FIFA World Cup
By Bai Shi

PASSIONATE: Fans gather in a bar in Haikou, capital of China's south Hainan Province, watching the opening match of the 2014 World Cup at midnight of June 13 (CFP)

China Central Television (CCTV) has acquired exclusive rights to broadcast this year's World Cup on the Chinese mainland. The station's sports channel, CCTV-5, will be stream a total of 800 hours of live footage from all 64 matches to Chinese audiences during the 33-day event, Jiang Heping, Director of CCTV-5 sports channel, told Xinhua recently.

The station has also made full preparations: It will show live matches, video replays, interviews with the players and expert analyses every day across its many media platforms, including television, the Internet, and mobile phones.

This month, the TV station sent over 100 employees—reporters, cameramen, technicians, and more—to the various host cities in Brazil. Their assignment is to look for in-depth stories behind the scenes of the event, giving viewers a comprehensive look at Brazil, its cities, and its people's love of "futebol."

"Apart from the matches themselves, the training sessions of some teams will be broadcasted live by CCTV, and it's the first time we've done this during a World Cup," Jiang said.

Such hard work during the event has brought the channel exceptionally high ratings. According to statistics from AC Nielsen, a global marketing research firm, CCTV's live showing and replays of the World Cup's June 13 opening match—Brazil versus Croatia—reached 1.32 percent in the ratings. This means that some 46 million people in China watched the game on TV. Furthermore, the number of those who watched the game on CNTV, the online offshoot of CCTV, reached 5 million.

China's World Cup dream

As the 2014 FIFA World Cup rolls on, a recurring question is asked: When will China reach the World Cup again?

The first and last time a Chinese football team qualified for the event dates back to 2002, when Japan and South Korea jointly hosted the World Cup. Thanks to Bora Milutinovic, former coach to China's national team, China was able to achieve standing for the first time as one of 32 teams taking part in the World Cup. Chinese fans hailed Milutinovic as a "magic coach." But China's luck ran out during the event itself, and it was knocked out without winning a single match or scoring a goal.

After that, the Chinese team seemed to fall back into its vicious cycle, trying and failing to reach the World Cup again and again after 2002. Recently, China's national team even set a number of record "worsts." For example, China's FIFA world ranking dropped to 109 in March 2013, while its ranking in Asia simultaneously slid down to 13. Later in 2013, in a friendly match that consisted largely of young players, China was defeated 1-5 by Thailand. This loss resulted in one of the more humiliating final scores in the history of Chinese football. It led, too, to the sacking of Spaniard José Antonio Camacho, then head coach of the country's national team.

Many attributed the team's defeat to mistakes made by Camacho, its sixth foreign coach in just a few years. Camacho had been fiercely criticized by Chinese fans since 2011, when he failed to lead China to the 2014 World Cup. Foreign head coaches often bear the weight of an entire country's anticipation, and expectations are not light. However, no foreign coach —save for Milutinovic—has achieved widely regarded success with China's national football team.

On February 26, Frenchman Alain Perrin was appointed head coach of China's national football team. Perrin's mission, for now, is to lead China to the 2015 Asian Football Confederation Asian Cup hosted by Australia.

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