China covets football elite role by 2050

BEIJING • China's perennially low-ranked football team will be one of the world's greatest by 2050, the government vowed in a plan released by China's top economic planning body.

The 14-page plan outlined a multi-decade vision to vault Team Dragon - currently ranked 81st in the world by Fifa - into the elite and "realise the goal of being the top-class football nation", it said.

It was issued by a joint committee of the National Sports Administration, the Chinese Football Association, the education ministry and the National Development and Reform Commission.

President Xi Jinping, a football lover, has declared that China should fulfil his three dreams of hosting, qualifying for, and winning a World Cup.

The committee said that in the next four years, China will have 20,000 football academies, 30 million elementary and middle school pupils playing the sport, among more than 50 million Chinese active in the game.

The report came shortly after China's 2-0 shock win against previously unbeaten Qatar, thrilling local fans and sending the team through to the final Asian qualifying stage for Russia 2018.

China - and 11 other nations - will learn their opponents for the final round today. They will be drawn into two groups of six teams to play home-and-away under the round-robin format.

The winner and runner-up of each group will seal a berth in Russia, while the third-placed teams of each group will advance to the Asian play-off round.

The winner of that battle will take on the side that finishes fourth in the fifth round of the Concacaf qualifiers in a two-legged play-off.

XINHUA, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2016, with the headline 'China covets football elite role by 2050'. Print Edition | Subscribe