November 21, 2023 09:53
Korean footballers arrived in China on Sunday, ahead of their second-round Asian qualifier for the 2026 FIFA World Cup in Canada, Mexico and the U.S. They were welcomed by hundreds of Chinese fans at Shenzhen Bao'an International Airport.
Korea, led by head coach Jürgen Klinsmann, will face China at Shenzhen Universiade Sports Centre on Tuesday.
Prices of tickets for the match range from 160 to 680 yuan, and all 68,000 tickets were sold out instantly.
A Chinese sports media outlet highlighted the Korean squad's star power, pointing out that it includes 13 players in overseas leagues.
Digital sports media platform Tencent Sports said the Korean players are valued at 187.55 million euros in total, 17 times higher than that of the Chinese national team players.
Korean footballers are enjoying huge popularity in China. As Chinese football has been in a prolonged slump, Koreans playing for big clubs such as Son Heung-min of Tottenham Hotspur, Lee Kang-in of Paris Saint-Germain and Kim Min-jae of Bayern Munich have emerged as stars among Chinese football fans.
Few Chinese footballers have played outside of Asia. Wu Lei, who is considered the best Chinese footballer of all time, played for La Liga side RCD Espanyol from 2019 to 2022 but returned home without many achievements.
China is currently ranked 79th in the world, lower than No. 24 Korea, and has appeared at the World Cup only once, in 2002.
Even Chinese President Xi Jinping reportedly said, "About our national team, I'm not so sure about their level. There are ups and downs," during an informal conversation with Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in San Francisco last week. The remark was made after he apparently heard that China had a rare victory in a recent match against Thailand.
Chinese football fans' biggest hope is that China will secure a spot at the 2026 World Cup.
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