Taiwan’s Masterstroke

Taiwan commonly referred to as Chinese Taipei in international sporting events have very rarely registered on the world’s footballing radar. Perpetually ranked in the lower echelons of FIFA rankings with some of the world’s most and least known footballing minnows, but the CTFA (Chinese Taipei Football Association) have pulled off an absolute masterstroke by persuading Gary White to bring his Midas touch to the island.

White has had success with every other team he’s worked with. He took the British Virgin Islands, Bahamas, and Guam to their highest ever FIFA rankings and saved Shanghai Shenxin from relegation when they were in a perilous predicament. So when he was announced as the new manager of Taiwan on 15th September 2017 it created an excitement previously unseen from past managerial appointments.

At the time of accepting the job, Taiwan had played 3 qualifying games for the 2019 Asian Cup, losing at home 3-0 to Turkmenistan, winning away 2-1 against Singapore, and then taking an absolute battering in a 5-0 defeat in Bahrain. This left them in the third spot in the group with an outside chance of qualifying, but they needed to defeat group leaders Bahrain and win away against Turkmenistan to keep the dream alive.

His first task was a friendly against Mongolia in preparation for the crucial Bahrain home qualifier. The friendly was played out like an exhibition, with Taiwan winning 4-2 which offered a platform to build on for the main event, Bahrain. With barely any preparation time for the game, people weren’t holding out much hope of a result. Taiwan was pumped up, but Bahrain got the first goal from what will go down as a ‘dodgy’ penalty.

It stayed at 1-0 until the 88th minute, with all hope looking lost and the crowd resigned to yet another Taiwanese defeat which they’ve become accustomed to. However, this time was different, instead of continuing to sit deep and accept a 1-0 defeat; White urged bodies forward as he taught the Taiwanese about the proverbial kitchen sink.

At this point the crowd got to experience something that rarely happens for Taiwanese football fans – a comeback, Chu En-Le Taiwan’s nationalised striker bounced the ball from his head to the net which made it 1-1. Two minutes later – the 90th Taiwan’s captain Chen Po-Liang pops up in the box to toe poke the winner. Delirium ensued and Taiwan maintained their chance of qualifying for the Asian Cup. The result was even reported in local media, something unheard of in previous games!

The momentum carried into the next qualifier - away to Turkmenistan - where Taiwan was excellent for most of the game, if only they could finish their chances it would have been another victory. However, a 2-1 loss ended the dream but the performance away from Taipei was vastly improved compared to their previous away fixtures. It enabled the excitement to grow even more.

After the qualifiers, the CTFA arranged their own international friendly tournament that involved The Philippines, Laos, and East Timor with Taiwan winning all their games. They also saw it as an opportunity to get young European based players involved with the national team like Crystal Palace’s Will Donkin and Djugardens Josef Gustaffson. That means Gary White’s record so far is – played 4, won 3, drew 0, lost 1. Taiwan is already placed in their highest ever FIFA ranking.

There is a buzz building around football locally as it challenges the firm hold baseball and basketball have on the island. Whoever had the idea to employ Gary White at the CTFA needs to be rewarded, if they persuade him to stick around for a prolonged period then the future for football will look a lot brighter than at any time before White arrived.

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