While Japan celebrates its championship at the women's World Cup, Chinese coaches at the grassroots level are worried about the sport's future as fewer and fewer children are taking to the field.
"Why is Japan so strong today? Because they have a much bigger talent pool than we have. It is impossible to have a world-class adult team without many kids playing at early age," said Jiang Jianhua, 46, a soccer coach at Tangu Primary School in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province.
According to the Chinese Football Association (CFA), China had more than 650,000 players under the age of 18 registered in the early 1990s. That number plummeted to 7,000 at the end of last year. In comparison, Japan has 500,000.
Gao Qiang, 39, from the Nanjing Road Primary School in Qingdao, Shandong province, echoed the same concerns.
"Ten years ago, when I announced recruitment for the soccer team, the students rushed to me and I had to disappoint some of them. But now they show less interest and we have to persuade the parents to let them play," Gao told China Daily on Sunday at the Great Wall Cup of Beijing 2011 International Youth Football Tournament, which attracted more than 30 teams from seven countries.
To play against foreign teams for the first time excited Gao's young players as they sought glory for their country.
"I want to show them we are not that bad," said Yang Boshuo, 12, referring to the struggling national team. "Its performance is really face-losing. I doubt they have not washed their feet for a long time."
Children always need inspiration from local sports stars. Unfortunately, China doesn't have a soccer version of basketball icon, Yao Ming.
Yang said David Beckham, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo were his top three idols, but when asked about the Chinese players, he said: "There is one but I can't remember his name. Let me see."
In an attempt to attract more children to the game, the CFA launched a huge salvage campaign recently by reaching a 500 million yuan ($77.3 million) deal with Dalian Wanda, a domestic company, to support a new youth development program.
Meanwhile, the state's top officials, including Vice-President Xi Jinping and State Councilor Liu Yandong have voiced their concerns about the sport's future in China.
However, local tutors are cautiously optimistic about the new deal.
"Of course, it is good news to have more investment in the campus campaign, but the players and coaches do not always benefit from such plans," said Jiang, who is also a campus program supervisor authorized by the CFA.
"I've been to a lot of cities with the monitoring team; some schools get free balls and equipment but they don't organize training. Meanwhile, some coaches don't get the subsidies they deserve."
However, other problems, like the high-pressure education system, also play a role in keeping boys and girls off the pitch.
According to Jiang, most of his players are from rural or migrant workers' families as "parents in the city want their children to focus on study".
"There are all kinds of cram schools for the students to attend after school and it always puts soccer pretty low on the priority list. The children in primary schools already struggle, let alone when they study in middle school." Jiang said.
"If the Chinese kids had as much free time as those in the foreign countries, I believe soccer would have a much better future in China," he said. "But I don't think the situation is easy to change."