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Under-23s earn some respite

By SHI FUTIAN | China Daily | Updated: 2020-01-21 09:17

China's men's under-23 squad have been come in for heavy criticism after missing out on qualification for the Tokyo Olympics, however they can still count on the backing of at least one prominent soccer figure-former national team coach Zhu Guanghu.

The Under-23s last week provoked fresh ire from fans after finishing bottom of Group C and failing to score a single goal at the Asian Football Confederation U-23 Championship, which was a qualifying event for Tokyo 2020.

Zhu, though, says the public should recognize the gap in quality between China and Asia's elite teams and reckons the squad could not be faulted for lack of effort.

"People should know the situation of the under-23 team, so I'm generally satisfied with its performance," Zhu told media at the 2019 Chinese Footballer of the Year Awards in Beijing on Friday.

"After the first game, many observers, including some foreign media, recognized the potential that the team has shown in terms of its control of the game, its counterattacking and the pressing of opponents.

"If they had better attacking ability, the result could have been different. The players are growing and I believe in their potential."

There had been high hopes for the team when the Chinese Football Association hired Dutchman Guus Hiddink as head coach in 2018.

However, the 73-year-old won only four of his 12 official games in charge and was dismissed after a year at the helm. With little time to prepare his charges, Hiddink's successor Hao Wei has ultimately been unable to make a difference.

Zhu coached Hao with China's Jianlibao team-a squad comprised of rising young talent-in the 1990s, when they spent time in Brazil to further their soccer education.

These days, Zhu keenly follows the progress of Hao's career.

"I have never missed one match of the under-23 squad," Zhu added. "I always want to see what my former players can achieve when they become coaches.

"Hao has done his best. We've been communicating all this time, and I know he has tried all he could in terms of tactics."

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