Sports / Soccer

'David versus Goliath' as amateurs join CFA cup knockout

By Sun Xiaochen ( Updated: 2016-02-04 17:27

Aiming to expand soccer's influence at all levels, the 2016 Chinese Football Association Cup will offer amateur teams access to the elite competition against professional clubs.

The CFA Cup, an annual knockout competition first played in 1995, will kick off on March 19 with 64 professional and amateur teams competing for the national title and a berth in next season's AFC Champions League.

Emulating the English FA Cup which is open to all teams from the Premier League down to village squads, the format was introduced to the CFA Cup in 2012 to encourage wider participation.

At this year's tournament, the top eight teams in China's amateur league with a further eight amateur sides selected through a qualifying tournament as well as 16 third-tier professional league clubs will compete head-to-head in the first round.

Winners of the opening round will face 16 second-tier pro clubs with the winners challenging 16 Chinese Super League (top-tier) teams in the third round.

Lin Xiaohua, a member of CFA's executive committee, said the cup competition will attract interest among a wider audience at grassroots level compared to the professional leagues.

"The possibility of amateurs taking down professionals definitely draws more attention from each participating squad's local communities. The high-profile platform available for grassroots competitors will help grow the game's profile across the country," Lin said at the draw on Wednesday.

Lin's sentiment was echoed by the amazing runs of two amateur clubs, Wuhan Hongxing and Suzhou Jinfu, which reached the last-16 against CSL clubs in the 2014 competition.

The two amateur teams were mainly made up of local villagers, college students and restaurant waiters, who gathered together for training and practice games at least once a week.

Tang Bo, coach of Suzhou Jinfu from Jiangsu province, said his team always takes the CFA Cup seriously to make the best of the high-profile occasion.

"We will put all-out efforts into preparation for this year's event as we value the opportunity to play against much higher level pro opponents," said Tang, who led the side to win the national amateur league last year.

As China tries to improve the game's profile and the national team's competency, more focus on grassroots development as well as youth training are called for by insiders to propel the game's influence from bottom up.

"I would love to see more upsets of lower-ranked teams beating stronger opponents as well as wider participation in the game across the country," said Xu Yang, a former national team midfielder who now works as a TV commentator.

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