Name a national pastime in which the Chinese and Hong Kong people always cheer for the opposing side and are usually critical of their own team except when they’re playing against each other.
The answer is a no-brainer.
Football is one sport where people in this part of the world spend sleepless nights to watch European football but turn off their televisions at the sight of a Chinese Premier League match.
This week, the FIFA World Cup qualifying round between Hong Kong and China, begged the oft-repeated question: why does football suck in China (and Hong Kong)?
The Chinese national football team failed to score at least four times on Thursday but it wasn’t because of bad luck. It was because they were inept.
But Hong Kong felt lucky to escape with its Group C leadership intact after a scoreless draw.
While we were thrilled to hold China to a draw, we all know that the next match — against Qatar — will be tougher, although we had a sort of rugby score against Bhutan and the Maldives.
Even China’s head coach, Alain Perrin, admitted that they were playing like children on Thursday.
No wonder the one-word foul language was heard all throughout the match.
Football is not a crop that will grow in China.
When Manchester United and Real Madrid bragged about how many Asian and Chinese fans they have, they should have known how heart-breaking that must be to President Xi Jinping, a football diehard.
It is said that Xi wants a World Cup trophy but is afraid it might be a bigger challenge than growing the Chinese economy at a 7 percent clip for another 30 years.
This summer, China proved it could not get everything it wanted.
Assuming Xi is a normal world citizen, we doubt if he would be a fan of Evergrande Taobao’s fading Robinho but not Barcelona’s rising Messi.
It’s safe to say that the future of football rests with the next generation.
Unfortunately, China has yet to figure out how to build a team that will not embarrass their own people.
The curse of the Chinese ball — which states that the bigger the ball, the tougher it is to handle for the Chinese because it requires more teamwork — will be an obstacle.
In March, the State Council took a step in the right direction by annoucing a revamped football development program.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong football has been losing audiences since the retirement of Mr. Footballer Wu Kwok-hung, who died this summer, although football gamblers have been seeing more action lately.
Football bettors who have lost money may be happy to know that they somehow contributed to the development of local football.
The Hong Kong Jockey Club announced a HK$120 million five-year football development program after a 26 percent increase in football betting to HK$78.25 billion in past fiscal year.
The largest chunk of the money will go to the first purpose-built football training center in Tseung Kwan O next year, along with other youth training programs that are expected to benefit 26,000 young footballers.
One of them is, Yapp Hung-fai, the undisputed hero of Thursday’s match.
If Hong Kong football wants total reform, someone should consider poaching Hong Kong Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges.
The former German footballer would be a perfect general manager for the Hong Kong team given his track record of promoting not just football betting but also horse racing.
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