China officially eliminated from 2022 World Cup qualification

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The China Men's National Team suffered a shock 3-1 loss to Vietnam on the first day of the Chinese New Year, officially eliminating the country from the 2022 World Cup qualification and extending the middle kingdom's absence at the tournament to more than 20 years.

Team Dragon Falter

Heading into the latest set of fixtures in the AFC's third round of World Cup qualification, China already had an extremely slim chance of progressing, with the goal being to try and reach Australia in third place of Group B - a position which would have afforded the team an opportunity to qualify through the fourth round.

After the sacking of Li Tie before the turn of the year, the job of trying to get the national team closer to the hope of qualifying fell to former Wuhan and Shandong boss Li Xiaopeng - and his early tenure in charge saw Team Dragon slump to consecutive losses.

The 2-0 loss to Japan in Saitama was largely unsurprising, with the Samurai Blue being one of the favourites for automatic qualification and sporting a much stronger side that included the likes of Liverpool's Takumi Minamino and recent Celtic signing Daizen Maeda.

With their chances of reaching third place dwindling, there could not have been a more perfect opportunity presented to them in the form of Vietnam - who had yet to register a single point through their first seven fixtures of the round, including a 3-2 loss to China back in October.

Fast forward to the end of the Chinese New Year's Day match, and the list questions surrounding the China national team continues to grow after an astonishing 3-1 loss that saw Li Xiaopeng's side fail to score a goal until the seventh minute of added time.

Xu Xin did his best to save face for the national side, striking in the 97th minute of the game, but the damage had already been done after China had slipped to a 2-0 deficit after just 16 minutes of play.

Ai Kesen was unavailable for the match, but plenty of naturalised players were on hand in the match, including A Lan, Luo Guofu and Jiang Guangtai, but even having them alongside the likes of Wu Lei and the promising Dai Wai-Tsun did nothing to help a sinking national side that continues to seek answers.

Two more qualifiers remain for China at the end of March, a home tie against Saudi Arabia before a trip to Oman, but now the primary focus for Team Dragon will be on the EAFF E-1 Football Championship in July - a tournament alongside Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea that will be held in the Middle Kingdom.

In order for the national team to be a success in the long-term, the CFA and GAS need to work together to improve the state of the domestic game. 

For many years, clubs have been collapsing due to financial issues across the country, including some big names such as 2020 Chinese Super League champions Jiangsu FC, historic club Liaoning FC and even Beijing Renhe, who suffered back-to-back relegations before dissolving.

The focus has been on how the national team performs, but it has often come at the detriment to the country's domestic leagues - with club football halted for multiple months throughout the 2021 season in order to facilitate long national team training camps.

The focus needs to change in order to make China a successful footballing nation. The approach of encouraging talented young players to seek opportunities abroad may benefit individuals, and boost the attention given to football in the country, but the focus needs to be on the domestic leagues and how teams are run and how they are developing young players.

If a serious shift in approach is not forthcoming, it could be far longer before Team Dragon ever gets close to qualifying for a World Cup.

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