Back to the drawing board

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Team China striker Yu Dabao goes up for a header during Monday's 4-1 loss to the Czech Republic in the third-place playoff of the China Cup in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. Two lopsided losses to European powerhouses in the tournament showed China still has a long way to go to catch up with the world's best. [Photo/Xinhua]

Team China's chastening China Cup experience has been a rude awakening for the domestic game.

The curtain closed on the tournament on Monday, with the host falling to a second defeat, 4-1 to the Czech Republic as Fan Xiaodong's fifth-minute opener was canceled out by second-half goals from Tomas Kalas, Patrik Schick, Michal Krmencik and Pavel Kaderabek at Guangxi Sports Center.

China fell to an even more humbling 6-0 loss to Wales in Thursday's semifinal as Gareth Bale struck after just two minutes and by halttime the match was essentially over.

Ryan Giggs' side led 4-0 at the break before Bale completed his hat-trick after the interval. Even after the Real Madrid star's substitution, China continued to struggle, with its attack toothless and its defense statuesque.

On the rare occasions Marcello Lippi's men managed to get sight of goal, star striker Wu Lei either blew his lines or was smothered by a well-drilled Welsh defense.

Giggs revealed afterward that Wales had targeted Wu as a threat requiring special attention.

Shanghai SIPG's Wu had been touted as a possible game-changer for the national team. The 26-year-old has started the Chinese Super League season in prolific form, with seven goals in just three matches.

He also garnered acclaim abroad, with World Soccer magazine including him in its "500 most important players on the planet" feature this month. Wu will have to perform better against world-class opposition to make the list next year.

Lippi, meanwhile, coudn't hide his disappointment at his team's capitulation.

"The result was not unexpected because it is a strong opponent," said Lippi on Thursday. "What is unexpected is the performance of the team. It's my responsibility.

"I take all the responsibility. It was my mistake to call up some players that I shouldn't have called up for these matches.

"I don't want to talk about the attacking side of the performance, What is most important is the mentality of the players."

Chinese soccer is, of course, a work in progress, and the hope now is that this wake-up call will redouble efforts to close the gap to the game's elite.

Already the wheels are in motion, with the Chinese Football Association reportedly set to hold a seminar in Beijing this week to discuss the development of the national team. More than 100 professionals are expected to attend, including Lippi, CFA experts and CSL club coaches.

Meanwhile, a Xinhua editorial called on China to focus on improving its youth training system.

"We cannot let the defeat be in vain," stated the article. "Chinese soccer should adhere to its reform plan. While building the system, we should focus on increasing the soccer population and have more grassroots coaches, and we should never be anxious to achieve quick success and get instant benefits."

Youth training forms a key part of the central government's Medium and Long-Term Plan of Chinese Football Development, which was published in 2016.

The document envisages that by 2020 there will be 20,000 soccer academies in China, with 30 million elementary and middle school students playing the sport.

Others believe the answer lies in more Chinese gaining experience in the world's top leagues.

That's easier said than done, however.

At the moment, Zhang Yuning, who is with Bundesliga side Werder Bremen on loan from Premier League struggler West Bromwich Albion, is China's sole representative in Europe's major leagues.

The 21-year-old has barely featured for Werder and it is rumored he will soon return home.

Zhang looked off the pace in Saturday's under-23 international against Syria in Xi'an, which ended 1-1. Afterward he admitted his lack of game time in Germany was proving problematic.

"Without high-level games to play, it is difficult for me to get the right feel and pace to score," said Zhang.

"My earlier injuries and the jet lag also affected me."

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