25 October 2016
Xi Jinping (inset) was probably spared some heartache by missing Tuesday's scoreless draw between China and Hong Kong. Xi is attending the APEC summit in Manila. Photos: HKEJ, Reuters
Xi Jinping (inset) was probably spared some heartache by missing Tuesday's scoreless draw between China and Hong Kong. Xi is attending the APEC summit in Manila. Photos: HKEJ, Reuters

What if Xi Jinping had watched China’s ‘most shameful’ match?

It is said that President Xi Jinping desperately wants to do three things in office — retake Taiwan, legislate Article 23 in Hong Kong and get China again into the World Cup.

The last is the hardest to achieve, judging by China’s performance in the Asian qualifiers.

Xi is attending the APEC summit in Manila and it’s possible he did not watch the match which was streamed on YouTube (Xi has banned YouTube in China).

Neither did Leung Chun-ying, who is also in Manila, appear to have caught any of the action last night, although he had a mouthful of well chosen words in the best tradition of political correctness.

China lost its best chance to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup after being held to a goalless draw by Hong Kong, the second in just over a month between the cross-border rivals.

They could have won if the referee had not ruled out what looked like a goal.

A draw is a desirable result in Chinese culture but not this time. China is utterly depressed while Hong Kong is predictably overjoyed.

Ironically, a ticket to the World Cup tournament matters less to Hong Kong than it does to mainland China.

CY Leung, for instance, is not terribly fond of the beautiful game but Xi is a die-hard.

On a recent visit to Britain, he took in Manchester City FC as would any self-respecting fan.

Hong Kong has never known what it’s like to play in the World Cup anyway, but China has been there, having qualified in 2002, the first time in the past 30 years.

But the Chinese have yet to make an impression at that level, let alone a single goal.

With two remaining matches, including one against Group C leader Qatar which have qualified for the next round, China could finish No. 2 in the group.

That would qualify them for a wild card knockout match.

But judging by the team’s lackluster performance, no one is betting the farm it will go all the way to Russia for the 2018 tournament.

Public expectations alone — not to mention Xi’s presumed urging — are putting enormous pressure on the team.

State news agency Xinhua tightened the screws on coach Alain Perrin, blaming him for the “most shameful match” of the national team.

The Chinese Football Association would be wrong not to remove him, it said in an editorial.

That is a typical Chinese punishment for a botched job — fire the expat and skirt the blame.

Hong Kong football fans are to blame, too, for their bad behavior, according Global Times, another state organ.

It wants FIFA, the world football governing boy, to penalize the Hong Kong Football Association for an incident in which the Chinese national anthem was booed by Hong Kong fans.

That is also a typical Chinese way of apportioning blame — punish everyone else but yourself.

Because of these subjective and substandard football commentaries, it’s understandable that many Hong Kong football fans showed up with banners proclaiming “Hong Kong is not China”.

Still, China’s World Cup hopes are far from dead. The question is how long it will take to get a foot in the door.

Xi would love to see it happen in his time in office, better yet bag the golden trophy in 2022, although he might have already stepped down by then.

Failing that, it could be a hundred years before anything of the sort comes to pass.

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EJ Insight writer

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