It takes only a glance at the news coverage from those days less than a decade ago, when China’s soccer success seemed only a matter of determination and money, to remember how quickly and how deeply the country embraced the world’s most popular sport as a national project.

At home and abroad Chinese President Xi Jinping was pictured kicking soccer balls and watching youth matches. State media detailed his lifelong love of the game. Schools were ordered to introduce soccer into their curriculums, and billions of dollars were earmarked for the construction of tens of thousands of fields. Major companies rushed to invest in professional teams, both at home and abroad, then stocked them with imported players — whatever the cost.

There was talk of bringing the World Cup to China. In Beijing, there was audacious talk of winning it.