Liang Hongfu

Sportsmanship deserves respect

By Hong Liang (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-06-24 08:03
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Weep no more, Chinese football fans. Your national team, which broke your heart for failing to make it to South Africa, is actually not much lousier than many that did.

France, the 1998 world champion, crashed out of the 2010 games after losing two matches and drawing one against what were widely seen to be its weaker opponents. England failed to win against even weaker teams from countries where football has remained an alien sport.

Star-studded Spain lost to underdog Switzerland in a stunning upset. Even the Germans, always dependable and unflappable on the global arena, lost their cool in the match that they ceded to Slovakia.

Brazil humbled the team from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) as expected. But it scored its critical first goal against the spirited Asians not by skill, but by fluke.

Argentina has done as well as it should. But it was pretty much a one-man show. Lionel Messi was just unstoppable, especially in the match against the untiring Republic of Korea (ROK) team.

I found most of the World Cup matches to be very boring. Instead of "total" football, most teams, especially those that played against stronger opponents, embraced the strategy of what one Chinese commentator derided as "turtle" football in which all players are deployed in defense. This may be an effective strategy to frustrate even the most powerful opponents. But nobody wants to watch a lopsided match with no score.

The three Asian teams, Japan, DPRK and ROK, have put up the best show so far. They played aggressively against opponents that were considered a few notches above them in skill and physique. But hardly any team can match them in stamina, morale and discipline.

Many Chinese football fans and commentators have wondered openly in print and on the Internet whether it is possible to create a Chinese national team that can match the attributes of its Asian counterparts. We can start by emphasizing more on sportsmanship and less, much less, on winning.

Our affection for the DPRK national team has actually heightened, rather than diminished, after its loss to Brazil in a match it played so well. They lost big to Portugal. But there is always the next time to get even.

The ROK players walked off the field with heads held high despite losing to Argentina, arguably a much stronger team. Japan put up a spirited fight against the Dutch before conceding the game.

ROK has secured its place in the last 16. DPRK is out. Even so, Asian teams will earn the respect of football fans around the world for the show of sportsmanship on the field. Their fans at home may feel disappointed that they have not done better. But nobody can blame them for not trying their best.

More important, these Asian players have behaved in a most civilized manner even when the game was going against them. Of course, they committed fouls. But they were never seen to have engaged in foul play.

I have always been a loyal fan of the English national team because I have been watching the English Premier League for many years. Now, the DPRK and ROK will share in that affection.

I hope the Chinese national team too will one day win my loyalty with gentlemanly football.