In March, China played Korea in a World Cup qualifiers and beat them! The fact that Chinese hopes of making it to the finals were nil did not matter. You only had to look at the faces and expressions of the onlookers so see how much it meant to them.
There were two reasons. Soccer is the most popular and wide-spread sport in China and while China is the rising world power so far it has not done well in the World Cup. Korea, its smaller neighbour, has done much better and will be in the 2018 finals. But at least in that one match, on 28 March, China won!
The second reason for nationalistic joy was that China sees Korea’s defensive upgrading ( US assisted) to counter North Korea as a military threat to China also, adding a political dimension to the encounter. Only 100 Korea supporters turned up for the match. They probably knew that beforehand a social media site entitled, ‘Opposing South Korea begins with football’ got 640,000 clicks.
Why has China, despite the millions poured into soccer, not yet produced a world-cup-winning team?
One of the reasons is that the culture trains people not be aggressive. While China might be famous for its martial arts, the only ‘sport’ enjoyed by cultivated people was archery and today the competitive game they are most comfortable with is table tennis.
Japan and Korea got an earlier start in adapting to the openly competitive nature of Western sports and so are doing better in the World Cup.
Ireland have played only two matches against China, in a tournament in 1984 and a friendly match in Lansdowne Road in 2005. On both occasions the ‘fighting Irish’ won 1 – 0.