China Cup could pave way to glory

Wang Jianlin, left, chairman of Wanda Group, gestures as he speaks during a ceremony for the "China Cup" at the Sofitel Hotel in Beijing, Wednesday, July 13, 2016. Chinese real estate, entertainment and sports conglomerate Wanda says it will host an annual "China Cup" football tournament which will begin next year and feature four national teams. Photo: AP

China, backed by its richest man, has struck a deal with FIFA to host the first China Cup from next year, a competition that will pit its national side against three international “first-class” teams — and hopefully pave the way to soccer glory.

Chinese property tycoon Wang Jianlin, whose Dalian Wanda conglomerate is already a high-level FIFA sponsor, said yesterday that his group and the Chinese Football Association would host the contest in the southern city of Nanning: four games played over a week every January.

European clubs often have a break around that time, potentially allowing national sides to pit their best — as China hopes. Eventually, it wants a total of eight teams to play.

“We aim to become the best football competition in Asia,” Wang said in Beijing. “We will use all possible measures to ensure we achieve this.”

China would qualify automatically for a contest that does allow it to earn points for global rankings — an opportunity for a country that wants to climb the FIFA table where it is currently languishing at 81, below Equatorial Guinea and Haiti. China is preparing to compete for a spot at the 2018 World Cup.

Soccer in China has been plagued by poor performances on the field and match-fixing scandals. But President Xi Jinping, an avid soccer fan, has spoken in the past of “three wishes” for China: to qualify for another World Cup since its first and only appearance at the 2002 finals, to host a World Cup, and to eventually win one.

China has since said it wants to turn its team into one of the world’s best by 2050.

“We are duty-bound as people in the soccer industry, as members of the CFA, to vigorously develop Chinese football,” said Yu Hongchen, vice president of the CFA. “This is our responsibility and it is also the demand of the times.”

Dalian Wanda has been at the forefront of China’s push into the business of sport, building up a sports arm which already owns a 20 percent stake in Spanish club Atletico Madrid.

Over the last 18 months, Wanda has sealed a series of high-profile sports investments to build up its sports business arm, from the purchase of the organizer of Ironman Triathlon races, World Triathlon Corp to acquiring Swiss-based sports marketing firm Infront, in a US$1.2 billion deal last year.

Meanwhile, Manchester United’s preseason tour of China this month, when it faces Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund, will give the players an opportunity to forge a close bond, manager Jose Mourinho has said.

United’s first game under Mourinho will be against last season’s German Bundesliga runner-up Dortmund in the International Champions Cup in Shanghai on July 22.

The 53-year-old Portuguese will also renew hostilities with old adversary Pep Guardiola, who replaced Manuel Pellegrini as City’s manager, on June 25.

“I hope to see a group, from an emotional point of view, coming together and getting to know each other better and understanding each other better,” Mourinho said in an interview with adidas’ Front Row.

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