Soccer

China to host 'launchpad' 2023 Asian Cup

AFP-JIJI

Asia’s soccer chief Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa said Tuesday that China’s staging of the 2023 Asian Cup would serve as a “launchpad” for the country’s teams of the future.

China was confirmed earlier Tuesday as host at the AFC’s Extraordinary Congress in Paris after all the other countries in the running dropped their bids, giving the Chinese a possible dry run for organizing a future World Cup.

“This is an important moment for football in Asia and beyond,” said Sheikh Salman, FIFA’s second in command, who was reelected to a fresh four-year term as AFC president in April.

“Football has the chance to unlock the potential that exists in the world’s most populous country.

“We have seen the rise of the game under the direction and investment of the Chinese government.

“Now, we have the chance with this Asian Cup to develop a sure legacy for the global game.

“The Asian Cup can provide a launchpad for the great Chinese football teams of the future and more importantly can place football as the number one sport in the country.”

Last month South Korea abandoned its bid to stage the tournament, leaving China as the sole candidate with a free run to become hosts.

Thailand and Indonesia had also previously expressed interest in hosting the 2023 event, but dropped out well before Tuesday’s vote.

China’s soccer fan President Xi Jinping has stated his aim for the country to stage the showpiece World Cup one day, with 2030 and 2034 often mentioned as possibilities, and wants the country to become a major force in the sport.

“It’s great for China, a great honour for China to be hosts of the 2023 Asian Cup. We are ready and confident of staging a successful tournament,” said Chinese FIFA Council member Du Zhaocai.

It will mark the second time China has hosted the quadrennial continental tournament, after the 2004 edition when it finished runner-up to Japan.

The bid proposed 12 candidate cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Xian, and there are plans to construct nine new soccer-specific stadiums by the end of 2021.

“Our vision is to bring the game to more places, more people and have more media exposure and create more excitement,” said Lin Xiaohua, an executive committee member of the Chinese Football Association.

“(We want) to build a lasting and positive legacy by inspiring a bigger love of football in China, the most populous country in the world, and also making football the number one sport in our continent.”

China, which has only qualified once for the World Cup in 2002, is ranked a lowly 74th in FIFA’s global rankings, sandwiched between Panama and Cape Verde.

Marcello Lippi was reappointed as coach of China in May, four months after the World Cup winner quit and following a failed stint by fellow Italian Fabio Cannavaro.

Lippi’s first match back at the helm will be a home game against the Philippines on June 7, followed by another home friendly four days later with Tajikistan.

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