China’s focus turns to World Cup hosting bid after qualifying setback

By Mark Dreyer Source:Global Times Published: 2017/6/15 0:28:39

The fat lady may not have sung just yet, but she is certainly warming up.

China's 2-2 draw against Syria in the Malaysian city of Malacca on Tuesday night means that the country still maintains a mathematical chance of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but the unlikely sequence of results that would need to occur to precipitate that eventuality would have Harry Houdini quaking in his boots.

In reality, though, China's World Cup dreams were over long before Syrian defender Ahmad Al Salih fired in a free kick in injury time to prevent China from taking home three points.

This comes as no surprise to coach Marcello Lippi or to the vast majority of Chinese soccer fans, and the most famous among them - President Xi ­Jinping - has already been looking to the future.

Xi met with FIFA President Gianni Infantino in Beijing on Wednesday and you can be sure that the prospect of a Chinese World Cup bid was raised.

Hosting the World Cup would, of course, be the easiest way for China to qualify for the world's premier soccer tournament, given that the hosts automatically receive a berth to the finals.

That possibility has been muted for either 2030 or 2034, but it is Lippi's job - for now at least - to make sure that China is in a position to qualify by right for either the 2022 tournament in Qatar or the 2026 edition, providing the ­national squad with a platform to build when the World Cup does eventually come to China.

While China's intentions to host the tournament are well known, and the flood of Chinese sponsorship money into FIFA's coffers in recent months has helped to smooth that path, other countries will have other ideas.

UEFA boss Aleksander Ceferin ­recently said it was "Europe's time" to host the 2030 tournament, while South Korean President Moon Jae-in - whom Infantino met in Seoul on Monday - pitched the FIFA chief with the idea of co-hosting the 2030 tournament with a handful of neighboring countries, including China.

While joint bids have happened in the past and may well prove popular in the future - North America's 2026 proposal, for example - it's no secret that China would prefer to host alone rather than share the limelight with several other countries.

With the rise of China's soccer ­industry reflecting past growth in the country as a whole, it's a matter of when, not if, the World Cup comes to the Middle Kingdom. Now, those in charge must make sure its players are equally ready to shine.

Mark Dreyer is the editor of China Sports Insider. A former reporter at Sky Sports and Fox Sports, he regularly comments on China's sports industry in the global media.


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