5000 Taiwan fans get the World Cup buzz

Photo: CTFA

The build-up to Taiwan's opening World Cup Game was perfect and set the right tone for the ambitions of exactly where football wants to be on the island. Although not everything went as people had hoped, and planned for in the opening match of World Cup qualifying against Jordan in Taipei. 

A lot of the work behind the scenes from the CTFA has been superb this time around, and we applaud them for that, but some small tweaks are still needed.

Taiwan's stumbling start 

Taiwan went into their first qualifying match on the road to Qatar 2022 with cautious optimism. This comes from their recent results in the last two-years. Including mostly friendly games and Asian Cup qualifying where they missed out on making it to the finals by a single point, pipped at the post by Turkmenistan.

The combination of these results and performances is what has given this rise to cautious optimism. That hasn't previously been seen around the Taiwanese national team during my 10 years supporting them.

That cautious optimism is what has seen the side achieve recognition for a change in the media. We have seen since with local media networks supporting the nation by helping to promote matches.

Seeing young and old fans — proudly sporting their Taiwan replica shirts, getting caught by the buzz of football, of the national team, of the World Cup, is a beautiful sight. Groups of men, women families, kids, youth footy clubs, old codgers — a motley crew of 5000, locals and foreigners alike.

All there to support Taiwan to cheer them on to victory, something only those supporting the nation for a while would have thought were possible.

They did just that as they cheered them on with Louis Lancaster acting as a lead orchestrator, urging the crowd to give his side the support they deserve.

Unfortunately, as the rain began to lash down in Taipei, Taiwan looked like the occasion seemed to get the better of them. Watching from the stands, it's easy to become a Football Manager tactical genius. When screaming from the stand, it's impossible to know what's going through players minds, or why something is not working.

Taiwan however, looked lackadaisical during the first half and struggled to get a foothold in the game. It could have been nerves, it could have been the bad weather, or it could just have been the quality of the Jordan team.

The for maybe all the reasons above the side started to misplace passes. In turn, they did not get close enough to Jordan to apply pressure. Like they have done in the build-up to this match, the aggressive pressing we witnessed in the final warm-up game against Hong Kong was worryingly missing.

Taiwan though, deserves a lot of credit, as they didn't throw in the towel, even though they were struggling to keep a big toe in the game, never mind a foothold. Their work ethic installed in them and the stronger mentality shone through. On top of this, some excellent keeping from Pan kept the scoreline within reach at half time.

During Taiwan's struggles in that first half, on that puddle patch of a pitch that wouldn't have looked out of place at Sunday league level, Jordan managed to take a 2-0 lead in the first half. It could have and probably should have been more.

The motley crew of 5000 that had assembled to roar Taiwan to victory cheered them off the pitch at half time though. Am this was in the hope that it could encourage the team to come out in the second half, keep their heads up and continue to fight for the cause.

Taiwan managed to get on the ball a bit more in the second half, and the introduction of Will Donkin managed to raise the excitement level in the stadium. He didn't disappoint either, with his direct running giving Jordan a new problem they had not faced.

Eventually, though, even the Donkin affect started to fizzle out, and it seemed like the game was petering out, as Taiwan huffed and puffed but were failing to blow Jordan's house down.

At that point, the only thing I was hoping for was to see Taiwan score a goal. It would give the 5000 fans an excitement buzz seeing a purpose. In turn, it could send the home fans home with a bit of excitement.

That cheer could hopefully see them next week, to watch Taiwan take on Nepal. My hopes and prayers were answered too, with Taiwan getting that goal before the 90 minutes were up.

This came as Taiwan pushed the ball wide on a break, as they pressed central midfielder Chen Po-Liang picked the ball up out wide. The midfielder playing as a right-winger with Taiwan chasing frantically at this point.

He got the ball and showed a calmness that he often displays to caress a pass to Wen Chih-Hao, who side-footed a shot into the corner of the net.

The scoreboard beamed right at me there were 80 minutes played on the clock. This meant there were just 10 minutes left on the clock, tick...tock...tick...tock!

Thoughts went racing back to that great match against Bahrain in Asian Cup qualifying where Taiwan scored 2 goals in roughly 3 minutes to turn a game on its head and grasp victory from the jaws of defeat. Could it happen again, could history really repeat itself that easily?

As people were cheering, happy and excited to see Taiwan score, I couldn't get the thoughts of Bahrain out my head and just screamed and screamed...its Bahrain again, we got this. As things turned out, it wasn't a case of Bahrain still, as Jordan employed every old time-wasting trick in the book to make sure they didn't concede again. It was particularly galling seeing one of their players boot the ball from the centre circle all way over the Taiwan goal and off the pitch, all in the name of time-wasting. It was also galling seeing the whole team go off the tone for what felt like 5 minutes to have a group handshake after each goal. All in the name of time-wasting.

What Taiwan can take from this, even though they found the game tight, and struggled for large parts of it, is that they dug deep when the going got tough, hung in and kept themselves in a match when in the past they never would have. They can hold their heads up high for that. There are going to be more games where they will find the going very tough too, and they need the same mentality from last night, where they keep getting back up, and keep putting in that effort, and stick together as a unit. If they do that, there is no doubt that the fans will be behind them because the effort being put in is visible, the goal also helps massively.

CTFA, the good and the bad

A lot that was organised and arranged last night was brilliant by the CTFA. Being able to buy drinks in the stadium, including beer. Kits on sale, scarves on sale, promoting the women's league, footy games for kids, other kids activities, all of this was brilliant, and amazing to see.

This is especially great as before all drinks in bottles were confiscated at the turnstiles. In turn, you could not buy anything inside, leaving you dehydrating in the heat until the end of the match.

The CTFA has made a massive effort pulling all this together, and we applaud them in their attempt to get this done. Not being able to get a drink in-ground is tragic at the best of times, but when you're sat in 30-40 degrees heat, it's bloody painful.

Now the bad, for some reason, the CTFA still find it difficult getting people inside the stadium on time for kick-off. Only having one gate open on the side of the stadium with the main stand where you have sold the majority of the tickets for is a significant issue. Someone who works at the CTFA must be aware of how many tickets have been sold, but at the same time would it be the worst idea in the world to just open more gates?

If you're going to insist on bag searching every single person one by one but only open one gate, then there are going to be bottlenecks for people trying to accessing the stadium. With only 5000 people there, would it really be that much of an issue to allow people to enter on either side of the stadium like every other Taiwan match that has ever been played?

Allowing people to enter the stadium to watch the game from the kick-off would be more constructive to growing football than the bureaucracy of demanding everyone go through the same gate, and everyone have a bag search. When have you ever seen a riot at the sports event in Taiwan? Having so many new fans stuck outside the stadium at kick-off was a disaster in my eyes. On the plus side, this was the only thing the CTFA got wrong which is progress on previous World Cup campaigns and hopefully over time they can fix this issue too. Roll on Nepal.

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