For World Cup newcomers China, the experience is more important than the result, a FIFA official said in Seoul Tuesday.
In their first World Cup finals after 44 years of waiting, China lost bitterly to Costa Rica 2-0 in its first game of the Cup Tuesday afternoon.
But Keith Cooper, FIFA Director of Co-ordination, believes the defeat was necessary for the young Chinese team to develop.
"You can only gain experience by taking steps,'' said Cooper.
A convincing run of 12 victories, one draw and one defeat throughout the Asian qualifiers enabled China to reach the World Cup for the first time last October.
"When you get to the World Cup, it gets tough. Even Costa Rica, which is perhaps not a world champion team, have players who are playing at high-level and competitive leagues. That is valuable experience,'' said Cooper.
Many believed that China'scoach, Bora Milutinovic, dubbed "The Miracle Wonder'' for guiding Mexico, Costa Rica, the United States and Nigeria into the second round of the World Cup finals, would work his magic again with his fifth team to lead China beyond the group stage where they face Brazil, Costa Rica and Turkey.
"Bora worked very well, very very well,'' said Cooper, who also serves as FIFA spokesman. "Bora knows how to organize his team. Bora's strength has always been to organize, to motivate.''
But Cooper emphasized that a coach couldn't decide everything.
"He (Bora) is not a magician, he is only the coach.'' he said.
China's captain Ma Mingyu blamed a momentary lapse of focus by his team for the 2-0 defeat.
"We played to the best of our ability. We needed to stay focused for 90 minutes, but we lost it in the second half,'' said the highly experienced midfielder.
Ma said Milutinovic -- nicknamed "Milu'' by the Chinese media -- had specifically warned his team not to let their guard down against the skillful Central Americans.
Nearly 20,000 Chinese fans were watching the game in the Gwangju stadium, compared to about 1,000 Costa Rican soccer fans.
Meanwhile in China, the tens of millions of football fans, well used to disappointment, shrugged off the defeat as their team went down to Costa Rica.
"They performed a little bit better than in the past,'' said lawyer Zhang Chaodong, one of the 3,000 people watching the game on a giant screen outside Beijing's Workers Stadium.
"Their chances are small against Brazil and Turkey,'' he said after the mid-afternoon match that held China's only realistic hope of points.
Many employers in China bowed to the inevitable and gave people time off to watch the game. Bars and offices were jam-packed.
Some universities and high schools in China called off afternoon classes to let students and staff watch China's debut.
The floor of the city's stock exchange emptied and trade volume plunged to a mere whimper as brokers and investors abandoned their computer terminals, they said.
Even Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao, in his routine Tuesday afternoon news conference, rued having to be there.
"I'm very interested in football and I feel it's a great pity to have to work here today and miss thematch,'' he said.
(China Daily June 5, 2002)