Chinese football, basketball and volleyball's mixed bag in 2022

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For China's three most-watched team sports (football, basketball and volleyball), 2022 was a year of mixed flavors. We witnessed the rise of a supernova when the women's basketball team touched the floor of the World Cup final; we burst into tears to see the women's football team standing on top of Asia; we bumped up heartbeats in the World Cup Qualifiers the men's basketball fought for; and we swallowed the familiar bitterness of the men's football team's absence from the FIFA World Cup.

It tastes like the joy of harvest and the bitterness of defeat, and eventually, the aftertaste is hope. There won't be sunny days for every day of traveling, but keeping going is what really matters.


The gift of the year for Chinese football fans in 2022 goes to the women's Asian Cup victory. The Steel Roses came from behind to defeat South Korea 3-2 in the final to lift the trophy for the ninth time.

The ladies scored 11 goals with zero conceded in the group stage and put on two comeback shows in the quarterfinal and semifinal. In the semifinal against former world champions Japan, the Roses showed great persistence by winning the penalty shootout after a 120-minute battle.

There's reason to set high hopes for China in the Women's World Cup next year, with internationals like Wang Shuang, Tang Jiali and Zhang Linyan making steady improvement in overseas leagues.

Yet it was another heartbreak year for men's football. The national team did not just fail to qualify for the World Cup finals for the fifth consecutive time, but also added a bunch of bitter memories to its supporters. It only managed a single win this calendar year - a 1-0 victory over Hong Kong of China, and suffered humiliating losses to Vietnam and Oman. The coach who was in charge over much of this failed campaign, Li Tie, is now under investigation for violations of laws.

The Chinese Super League, which briefly attracted big-name players with big spending, has also struggled with financial problems in recent times. Qingdao FC and Chongqing Liangjiang Athletic FC folded in the spring of 2022 amid financial woes. Several other clubs including Hebei FC and Wuhan Yangtze River FC have been hit with point deductions for failing to reduce their wage arrears.

For Chinese football, nevertheless, there were some shining moments, as Chinese referees officiated at a World Cup 20 years after debuting in the tournament in 2002. Ma Ning served as the fourth official for six group matches, and Shi Xiang and Cao Yi served as alternate assistant referees for three games.

There are also hopes in the cold winter. With a mission of building up a youth league with the largest number of participants, highest level of competition and greatest social influence, the first China Youth Football League wrapped up in late November. A total of 1443 games were played with over 400 teams from around the country involved.

With the help of this newly structured youth league, the Chinese Football Association (CFA) has consolidated a comprehensive league format for youth competition that encompasses a nationwide system, achieved the effect of combining competition with practice and improved the competitive level of every youth team.

It has also highlighted the importance given by the CFA on youth development from a social club and technical football point of view, by increasing the participation from an amateur level to produce high-level talents and lay a foundation for professional leagues from an early age.


China battled past Olympic bronze medalists France and Australia en route to reaching the final of the women's basketball World Cup for the first time in 28 years. China were beaten by the United States side in the final, but the silver medals for China's women represented their nation's best finish in the global showpiece since 1994.

And despite the 83-61 loss to the U.S., China's tenacity and resilience without top scorer Li Meng against 11-time winners earned respect from home and abroad while lifting the nation's spirit on China's National Day holiday.

From a disastrous defeat in the final of the 2015 Asian Championship and the country's worst-ever Olympic finish (10th) at Rio 2016, to regaining the world runners-up spot, China's women's basketball team revitalized by vigorously cultivating talents and focusing on tempering willpower.

With key players Li Meng, Li Yueru and Han Xu having an average age of less than 26 years old, things bode well for the 2024 Paris Olympics. "For us, the silver was a really good result, and we will keep moving forward and improving and we are looking forward to Paris," said head coach Zheng Wei.

Likewise, China's men's team seemed out of their slump after having missed out on the Olympics last year for the first time in their history. With almost no international drills, and plenty of difficulties in logistics and health management of players amid the pandemic, Du Feng managed to guide China to the 2023 World Cup with two qualifying games to spare.

But still, the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) decided to hire Aleksandar Djordjevic, one of the most accomplished names in the European game, as the new head coach to replace Du for next year's Cup campaign.

"To improve the overall competitiveness of the national program, the CBA has hired Aleksandar Djordjevic to be the head coach of the men's team," said the CBA.

In a move to promote basketball culture, the CBA established its Basketball Hall of Fame in 2022. After nomination, election and final review, nine inductees across three categories entered the China Basketball Hall of Fame with 15 tenured inductees and a collective comprising the "outstanding new China basketball 50".

In the view of Yao Ming, who was re-elected as CBA president, the original intention of establishing the Chinese Basketball Hall of Fame is to "retrospect roots". "Any business needs to know where we come from, who we are and where we are going in the future," he said.


Succession, expeditions and revitalization are the three themes for China's volleyball.

Having entered the Tokyo Olympics as defending champions last year, China's women's volleyball team failed to progress through the group stage. The shock early exit was China's worst performance in the Olympic women's volleyball tournament since their debut at the 1984 Games, leading to the resignation of legendary coach Lang Ping.

With the arrival of new coach Cai Bin, a rebuilding process is underway in 2022. World-class spikers Zhu Ting and Zhang Changning have been recovering from injuries and thus skipped this year's international competitions, while blocker Yan Ni retired. Cai hopes to inject new blood into the Chinese side, as up to 67 players were called up to the team's training camp.

After tough battles against elite teams at the FIVB Volleyball Women's Nations League (VNL) and World Championship from June to October, Cai's side have improved in technique as well as mental strength.

However, there remains an uphill task if China's women's volleyball team are to reclaim their Olympic title at Paris 2024.

The men's volleyball team, coached by Wu Sheng, experienced a three-month "devil training" including the VNL, World Championship and Asian Cup in a bid to obtain ranking points. After FIVB's change to the sport's Olympic qualification system, world rankings will play a bigger role in the definition of quotas, and China must earn as many ranking points as possible in the events to qualify for Paris 2024.

Since May, the team based on the 2020 tryout played and trained in many places overseas. There were not only joys over beating Brazil in the VNL and winning the Asian Cup, but also regrets of a winless World Championship run.

Experts insist that professional leagues are essential for grooming young talents. Some good news is that domestic volleyball leagues will expand with more games over a longer season and teams will be allowed to recruit more elite overseas players.

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