Eased tensions may boost performance of national team
Published: Mar 25, 2024 10:37 PM
Chinese national team member Liu Yang at the game against Singapore on Thursday Photo: Xinhua/

Chinese national team member Liu Yang at the game against Singapore on Thursday. Photo: Xinhua

After a disappointing 2-2 draw against Singapore on Thursday on the away pitch, the Chinese national team players were under heavy pressure, as many of them reacted dejectedly when arriving home in Tianjin to prepare for the home showdown with Singapore that is scheduled to be held on Tuesday.

The years of underachievement, amid an anti-corruption storm that has swept away former governing body officials, has often made the national team retreat into seclusion in recent years. The decision-makers of the Chinese Football Association (CFA) have hoped this distance could avoid the situation from becoming "exaggerated." However, it has also isolated the team from the fans.

National team captain Zhang Linpeng was overcome by the pressure, as he called it quits from the national team after the draw, where his error led to Singapore's equalizer. However, he reversed his retirement decision after consulting with the coaching staff and expressed his regret for his "irresponsible comment" that created anxiety.

The bond between players and fans is vital, as it helps players overcome mental difficulties. The bond is often considered the heartbeat of the game, the pulse that drives teams forward in times of triumph and adversity alike. Gladly, a subtle but significant shift is underway under the new CFA leadership. 

On Saturday, national team players Ba Dun, Gao Tianyi and Li Yuanyi appeared at a fans meet along with head coach Branko Ivankovic, while assistant coach Chen Tao led other three players Jiang Shenglong, Wang Zhen'ao and Cheng Jin for a training session with local youth players.  

These interactions serve a dual purpose: to bridge the gap between the team and its supporters and to inspire the next generation of soccer players. During a time when results on the field have been less than stellar, such connections became vital in maintaining morale and fostering a sense of unity among players and fans alike.

Buoyed by the outpouring of support from fans, players can find emotional solaces that help them alleviate the pressure on their shoulders. Their performance on the pitch wasn't just a reflection of their individual skills, but a collective form that was often dictated by their mental situations.

Traditionally, after a defeat or setback, teams might retreat into isolation, shunning public appearances. But by actively engaging with their fans and embracing their support, the players not only alleviate external pressures but also create a more relaxed and positive atmosphere within the team.

The impact of these interactions has been palpable during training sessions. Laughter and camaraderie replaced tension and apprehension as players approached their preparations with renewed vigor. It seems coach Ivankovic is a man who is keen on fostering a light-hearted environment.

The extended open training session of the team also provided fans with a rare glimpse into the team's preparations, further strengthening the bond between players and supporters. As the players absorbed the encouragement from fans, it became evident that they were not just representing themselves on the field, but an entire nation rallying behind them.

Beyond the tactical adjustments and physical training, these interactions served as a form of therapy for the team. The burden of expectation and the weight of past disappointments seemed lighter in the presence of their loyal supporters. The realization that they were not alone in their journey, but rather supported by an entire nation, has infused the team with newfound confidence and determination.

As match day draws near, the once-diminished spirits of the Chinese national team have been reignited. The stage is set for a showdown against Singapore, and players, with their strengthened bond with fans, can hopefully meet expectations for a simple but convincing win. 

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.