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China Sets Sights on Becoming World Soccer Powerhouse

  • VOA News

FILE - Students do morning exercises with soccer balls on a playground at a primary school in Linhai, Zhejiang province, March 26, 2015.

FILE - Students do morning exercises with soccer balls on a playground at a primary school in Linhai, Zhejiang province, March 26, 2015.

Within the next 30 years, China will have men's and women's soccer teams that are among the strongest in the world, according to an ambitious new plan released by Chinese officials.

The lofty goals include benchmarks that will see China become a top-tier Asian team by 2030 and have 50 million Chinese citizens playing soccer by 2020 — 30 million of which would be school children.

By 2050, the document claims China will possess "one of the world's strongest" national soccer teams. China's soccer team ranks 81 in the FIFA world rankings.

The announcement came from a joint committee of the National Sports Administration, the Chinese Football Association, the education ministry and the National Development and Reform Commission just a day before a meeting in Kuala Lumpur, where 12 nations will find out who their opponents will be in the final round of the 2018 World Cup Asian Qualifiers.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is an avid soccer fan and has made the Chinese national team one of his priorities since coming into power in 2012. He has repeatedly called for greater soccer education for young people to help raise future prospects for China's national team.

FILE - The Chinese team poses ahead of their AFC Asia Cup quarterfinal soccer match between China and Australia in Brisbane, Australia, Jan. 22, 2015.

FILE - The Chinese team poses ahead of their AFC Asia Cup quarterfinal soccer match between China and Australia in Brisbane, Australia, Jan. 22, 2015.

According to the new Chinese plan, every county should have two standard fields and every new housing compound in cities with adequate space should have at least one five-a-side court. Within the next four years, China will have 20,000 soccer academies teaching elementary and middle school students how to play soccer.

Since it first entered the FIFA World Cup in 1958, China has only successfully qualified for the tournament one time, in 2002, when it lost all three first-round games and failed to score a goal.

Despite its record, the men's team won a spot in the 2018 qualifying round after a shocking 2-0 win over the previously unbeaten Qatar team.

The women's team has fared slightly better over the years, taking fourth place in the 1995 World Cup and placing eighth last year.

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