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44 years of waiting finally come to an end
The long wait for their first ever appearance on the highest stage finals finally ended for China, when Bora Milutinovic steered the world's most populous nation to 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan. Chinese football had been waiting 44 years to make its mark on the global game and the appearance at next year's finals will be a step into the unknown.
For some, like veterans Hao Haidong, Fan Zhiyi and Ma Mingyu - all stalwarts of previous near-misses - it will be a final hurrah at the pinnacle of the global game. For others, the younger generation who have benefited from the development of the game in China in recent years, it will be a learning experience to build on.
Players such as Sun Jihai, Li Tie and Qu Bo all impressed during qualifying and are the most tangible signs that the Chinese FA's development programme and the professional league are bearing fruit.
That China has had the talent to figure at the top of the Asian game has rarely been in doubt, a fact borne out by their reaching the semi-finals of last year's Asian Cup in Lebanon. The only question that remained was over the mental strength of a group of players who had consistently under-performed, a fact not lost on Milutinovic as he sought to qualify the team for the finals.
Qualification - dominant second phase
China breezed through Asia's World Cup qualifying tournament to reach their first-ever finals in a convincing and impressive manner.
Despite a stuttering start in the preliminary rounds when Milutinovic's team only recorded narrow wins over the likes of the Maldives and Indonesia, it was in the second and final phase that the Chinese came to the fore.
In what was universally seen as the easier of the two groups in Asia's final round of qualifying, China won five and drew one of their first six games to guarantee a place in the finals two rounds before the end of qualifying.
Significant past players:
Li Fusheng, Da Yu Zhao
-- Runners-up Asian Cup 1984
-- Olympic Games Participants Seoul 1988
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