Taipei: The painful experience of narrowly missing out on a place at the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 Finals is driving Chinese Taipei onto bigger and better things, claims national team captain Chen Po-liang.
The East Asians missed out on their first AFC Asian Cup Finals appearance since 1968 – their second of two - by a solitary point as they fell short of qualifying at the hands of Bahrain and Turkmenistan.
But for a team from a nation where baseball dominates the sporting scene, those performances have given Chinese Taipei a greater sense of belief.
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“The expectation isn’t a burden at all and it all comes from the hard work done by the team in the past,” says Chen of the change in perception of him and his teammates, especially following their dramatic 2-1 win over eventual group winners Bahrain in Taipei in October 2017.
“Previously, we worked hard but we didn't get the results we wanted and some of the players wondered if there was any point in working hard if we couldn’t get good results. But if we keep working hard, then we can achieve something.
“So, if anything, it’s something that pushes us to keep working harder because these are the results we can achieve if we do that.”
That spirit was on display on Thursday when, despite a gap of 26 places in the FIFA Rankings, Chinese Taipei made Jordan work for their 2-1 win at Taipei Municipal Stadium in the opening game in Group B of the Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023.
Wen Chih-hao gave Chinese Taipei hope with a goal nine minutes from time while a superb goalkeeping display from Pan Wen-chieh meant Jordan were never sure of the three points until the final whistle sounded. It was a sign of the strides being made by Chinese Taipei, first under former coach Gary White and now with Louis Lancaster at the helm.
Another is the impact playing professionally has had on several players within the squad, including Chen. The 31-year-old is one of three players in the squad to make a living in China PR – central defender Yaki Yen is a regular with Qingdao Huanghai and Wen is on the books of Beijing Enterprises - with others plying their trade in Hong Kong.
“It means I have to stay in shape, but having the opportunity to play in China means that, in these games, if the other players do well they can have the hope to go and play abroad too,” says Chen.
“Being a professional player is not as easy as some people think and you have to give everything, but I’m enjoying every moment of it.”
After the disappointment of Thursday’s loss, Chinese Taipei now have to reset their sights before taking on Nepal on Tuesday. But Chen is confident the work being done by the squad under Lancaster will pay dividends.
“Our whole system is focused on the team, because we are a team,” he says. “It’s not about one person, it’s about the whole team. We have improved working as a team, and that’s the key.
“Each coach has their own specialty and they view every game differently. Louis understands the culture and the environment of Chinese Taipei, so he knows what exactly to tell the players and he knows exactly what he wants from us.”
And any thoughts Chen will allow his teammates to rest on the laurels of their previous performances are quickly dismissed.
“Those games are in the past and I don’t like to dwell on what happened before,” he says. “We have a new challenge in front of us and I want to focus on that.”
Photos: Chinese Taipei Football Association
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