Students warm up before a training session at Evergrande soccer academy in Qingyuan, China. File photo/ Reuters
SHANGHAI: China wants its domestic league to be the best in Asia and “number six in the world” as the country ramps up its ambitions to become a major footballing power by 2050.
The Chinese Super League (CSL) has made headlines in recent years by luring big-name players and coaches from Europe with hefty salaries.
But Chinese players are yet to make an impact with the national team 72nd in the FIFA rankings and only Wu Lei, the Espanyol forward, playing regularly in a major European league.
The Chinese Football Association (CFA) and football-fan President Xi Jinping have big plans, however, and want to host and even one day win the World Cup.
A better CSL is a priority, Li Yuyi, the CFA vice-president and CSL chairman, said, in the hope that will ultimately benefit the national side.
“We will work hard to develop our league to be in the top in Asia and number six in the world,” Xinhua news agency quoted Li as saying.
“It is a general rule that if a team had a good result in the World Cup, it always had many players (who) played in the world-leading professional leagues.”
The CSL had average crowds of 24,000 in 2018, making it the sixth-best supported after the English Premier League, the Bundesliga, La Liga, Serie A and Mexico's Liga MX, according to Xinhua.
Under Xi, China launched a football development plan in 2015 that aims to get hundreds of millions of children into the sport.
The government will this year begin a pilot scheme introducing football to kindergartens across the world's most populous country.
President Xi Jinping has vowed to make China a footballing force and is prepared to go to great lengths to do it, sending thousands of toddlers to “Football-focused” kindergartens.
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Cross-code star Sonny Bill Williams was benched and fellow centre Ryan Crotty missed out altogether as New Zealand named their team for Saturday’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final against Ireland.
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