搜狐体育讯 It has been a roller-coaster year for Chinese football with more downs and ups. The-afc.com looks back over the 2008 season and sees hope for the future.
The year 2008 was a disappointing one for China football, which seemed to suffer setback after setback. Their national teams failed to perform at the major international competitions, causing concern and frustration among fans and even members of the government.
However, the conclusion of the 2008 China Super League (CSL) brought with it a measure of hope and happiness, despite a largely chaotic season.
The fact that the title race went down to the wire, with Shandong Luneng trumping Shanghai Shenhua as the final minutes ticked away, provided the on-field tension and excitement that fans had yearned for the entire eight months of the season.
That alone can put a smile on their faces. Although it won’t paint over the turmoil of 2008, which saw Wuhan quit the league after one of their players copped a lengthy ban, at least it gave them something to look forward to for the start of the 2009 season, where the stakes will be much higher thanks to the new AFC Champions League (ACL).
For Shandong, a place in the ACL is just reward for a tough season in which they entered the final day of season requiring victory to claim the title. As it turned out, they were held to a 0-0 draw, which meant they needed Shanghai to drop points at home against Zhejiang.
Shanghai had won 12 of their 14 games at home previously, so it was a minor miracle for Shandong that their main rivals conceded a goal with 14 minutes left to draw 2-2.
Shandong and Shanghai are joined in the revamped ACL by Bejing Guoan and Tianjin Taida. However, there was disappointment for Liaoning, one of the fallen giants of Chinese football, who were relegated with only six victories and 15 defeats in their 30 matches.
Liaoning and Wuhan will be replaced by Jiangsu Shuntian and Chongqing Lifan in the elite division next season.
While Liaoning had the worst defence by conceding 47 goals, champions Shandong let in a league-best 25. Shanghai were the most prolific with their 58 goals scored.
During 2008, CSL officials not only tried to bring in the fans but also attempted to win their hearts by being one of the few national leagues to launch a Social Responsibility Programme.
Although fans were largely apathetic to the programme, CSL still managed to show its commitment to the cause by donating US$1.2 million to the China Red Cross in March. The league also raised US$1.3 million to aid victims of the Sichuan earthquake, and launched a Nike & CSL student fund for Tibetan students in which more than 100 received scholarship funds totalling US$44,000.
This is the first football-related fund created in Tibet, set up to subsidise students from poor families and encourage them to break away from poverty and embrace a healthy mentality and develop strong personalities.
However, the problems faced by the CSL throughout 2008 overshadowed the programme’s success.
Attendances were down, the Wuhan incident enraged many and state-owned broadcaster CCTV decided to stop coverage of CSL matches.
Winning back the fans and restoring their reputation as a clean and viable league remains a priority for CSL officials.
There is also the problem of a lack of home-bred strikers in China. Most club teams rely on foreign signings to bang in the goals. This is starkly evident at international level where China scored just three goals in six World Cup qualifying matches.
They can take heart from the fact that they garnered 415 points in the AFC’s ranking for leagues in the continent, coming in at number three behind Japan and Korea Republic.
AFC want to make the ACL more professional and China is eager to follow suit. With all four CSL clubs looking to make a major impact on the 2009 ACL, it provides Chinese football with an ideal opportunity to mend its relationship with fans.