Chinese fans eye greater China-Italy soccer ties after Xi gets Italian team jersey

By Wang Qi Source:Global Times Published: 2019/11/8 0:18:39

Photo: IC

Chinese Net users and analysts looked forward to greater soccer cooperation between China and Italy after Chinese President Xi Jinping received an Italian national team jersey from Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio.

Xi received the special No.10 shirt with his name on the back from the Italian government delegation during his visit to the Italian exhibition area at the China International Import Expo (CIIE), China Central Television reported on Tuesday. 

The No.10 has usually been worn by top players in the world sport's history: Pele, Diego Maradona, Zinedine Zidane and Lionel Messi. 

Previous number 10s of Italy include iconic players Roberto Baggio, Alessandro Del Piero and Francesco Totti. 

Sport is the "lubricant of politics" and helps bilateral relations, said Wang Dazhao, a Beijing-based sports commentator.

Wang noted that Marcello Lippi, head coach of the Chinese national football team, plays an important role in the two countries' communication and mutual understanding.  

As a fan, Xi has received around 10 kits overseas including the number 10 jersey of Bayer Leverkusen, Boca Juniors and the Argentina national team. Xi also received shirts from Real Madrid, LA Galaxy, Wolfsburg, Team England and Manchester City. 

During Xi's state visit to UK in Manchester in October 2015, Manchester City Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak presented the Chinese President with a signed shirt. Xi's following selfie with then prime minister David Cameron and City legend Sergio Aguero was dubbed "selfie of the year" by the BBC.

Xi has been determined to promote soccer development since he took office. 

In April 2016, China launched a reform plan to increase its soccer-playing population to 50 million by 2020, 30 million of whom would be elementary and high school students. 

The plans are that by 2030, the Chinese men's soccer team will meet Asia's top level.  

The gift from Italian Foreign Minister cheered China's legions of Italian soccer fans who look forward to further cooperation between the two countries that can help Chinese soccer reform, according to some Chinese analysts. 

Italy is also eager to win Chinese fans back against the popularity of the UK and Spanish leagues, they said. 

Italy is an important partner of China in jointly building the Belt and Road Initiative and also a strong soccer country, Chen Zhimin, a professor at the School of International Relations & Public Affairs of Fudan University in Shanghai, told the Global Times on Thursday.

"The two countries have made great efforts in building closer bilateral relations in all aspects including soccer," Chen said.

In 2016, Italian World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi was appointed head coach of China's national soccer team, after his historic successes in the Chinese Super League with Guangzhou Evergrande.

In 2016, China's e-commerce giant Suning purchased Italian's Inter Milan for 270 million euros ($307 million) in the highest-profile takeover so far of a European team by a Chinese firm. 

Suning, also the owner of Chinese Super League's Jiangsu Suning, has brought some Inter players including Italian international Eder and Brazilian defender Joao Miranda to play with Jiangsu Suning in China.
Newspaper headline: Fans eye greater China-Italy soccer ties after Xi gets Italian team jersey


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