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The 1980s: weight of football expectations
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May 19th, 1985, was a sunny day, with a pleasant 26 degree-centigrade temperature. It was a day many football fans will never forget.

On China National Radio, an announcer was broadcasting: "The China National Football Team will play Hong Kong this evening at Beijing's Workers Stadium. China, if we win, will progress to the World Cup finals."

Mr Rong, Football Fan, said, "We'd be going to the World Cup if we beat Hong Kong. I thought beating Hong Kong would be a piece of a cake; it was just a question of how much we'd win by. So we were planning a celebratory drink a week before the match."

Three years earlier, soon after China was readmitted to FIFA, the national team lost 2-1 to New Zealand in its first attempt to qualify for the World Cup, after the New Zealanders had beaten Saudi Arabia 5-0. The defeat meant China failed to qualify.

The national team's training base was the Workers' Stadium. At 3 o'clock every afternoon, fans would congregate to watch the National Youth Team training. Li Huajun, a member of the full national team, would always be greeted with a special cheer. The fans called him the "Seal".

Yu Dawei, Reporter, said, "The Beijing fans liked to stand on the other side of the fence, just to cheer him. They really liked him."

Mr Rong said, "He was what would later be called a star. He had natural footballing ability."

Chinese football has a slogan: "Beyond Asia, to The World". But in achieving this aim, the football tram was beaten by the Chinese women's volleyball team. At the World Championships held in Japan in 1981, the volleyball girls won seven straight victories, and became the first Chinese world champions in a big-ball sport.

Mr Rong said, "In the 70s, the Chinese were said to be good at small ball games, but not big ball ones. It was true that, for quite a while, we never won any medals in those sports in international competitions. Volleyball was the first. It was a great encouragement for us football fans; we thought football could also make it one day."

In July 1983, Li Huajun appeared as part of the Chinese team in the Under-20s World Cup in Mexico. It was the first time he'd ever played in a match outside China. It was five years after the launch of the reform and opening, and China's cooperation with foreign countries in the economic, diplomatic and other areas was expanding. Opportunities for greater international exchange were also opening up in the sports field. More and more Chinese athletes were competing in international tournaments, and more were returning home in triumph. They were also serving as overseas envoys.

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