SPORTS> Newsmaker
Different accent on glory quest
By Tym Glaser (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-09-04 11:04

A China team - with a difference - will begin its quest for Asian Championships glory in Kuala Lumpur tomorrow.

The China Reds, a squad of about 30 Australian expatriates, will battle nine other teams for the regional Australian Rules crown over the next week in Malaysia's capital.

Aussie Rules, the island continent's most popular sport, is branching out - particularly in Asia where relatively large groups of Australians have either been assigned or dwell.

While this year's tournament, the 10th of its kind, will again be an expat jamboree, Reds captain Grant Keys can see the day when teams, including China, will feature homegrown talent.

"I think we could have taken a couple of local players to this year's event and we are bound to have some in our squads in the future, but the trouble is keeping them interested after they leave college, find work and start family life," the Beijing-based embassy staffer said.

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"We have our college program and the talent is definitely there, it's just a matter of keeping it. Also, cost is a problem for the students but we held a fundraiser recently and we will be taking some of the Chinese players down to Shanghai for a match against the Tigers later this year."

The Reds' squad comprises an almost 50/50 split between players from the Beijing Bombers and the Shanghai Tigers and is the largest group of Aussie Rules aficionados to leave China for a championships yet.

With greater numbers, come higher expectations.

"We are definitely aiming for the top four," Keys said. "We have never made the semifinals and I think we have had the preparation this time around to do it.

"We had a training camp in Qingdao with guys from Shanghai and Beijing and that went very well. We now know exactly the type of players we have, instead of in previous times when we just basically turned up and had to pick a team blind."

The 10 teams at the Championships have been split into two groups and China find themselves in probably the softer part of the draw, facing last year's runners-up, Singapore, a dangerous Bali combination, Vietnam and Laos.

"Our opening game (tomorrow) against Bali will be the key. We need to finish in the top two in the group to reach the semis and that means beating either them or Singapore."

The other group consists of defending champions Dubai, hosts Malaysia, Hong Kong, Jakarta and Thailand.

For the uninitiated, Aussie Rules is a contact sport, not dissimilar to the rugby codes, which requires competitors to pass an oval ball, by hand or foot. Each team has 18 players on the field. Every year close to 100,000 fans attend the Grand Final between the two best teams in the Australian Football League.