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Monday, 8 April, 2002, 12:10 GMT 13:10 UK
China's long wait
Chinese fans celebrate their team's World Cup qualification
The long wait is finally over for Chinese fans
China make their first appearance in a World Cup finals at Korea/Japan 2002 and finally have a chance to shrug off their tag as Asia's perennial under-achievers.

Despite containing about 1.24 billion people and encompassing 9.57 million kmē of land, the Asian giants have failed to put together a team who have won any top prizes.

They may have a bare trophy cabinet, but at least the anguish of trying to qualify for the finals is finally over - a dream that began nearly half a century ago.

The Chinese Football Association was established back in 1924 and joined Fifa's world governing body 10 years later.

But it was not until 1957 that the national team made their assault on the World Cup final circle, beginning their qualification campaign in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Football facts
FIFA RANKING
Current: 55th
Highest: 37th (Dec 98)

PAST STARS
Li Fusheng
Da Yu Zhao

HISTORY
1924 Chinese Football Association (CFA) founded
1957Country makes its first assault on the World Cup
1984 Asian Cup runners-up
1985 China narrowly miss out on reaching the World Cup
1988 Olympic Games participants in Seoul
1994 The Chinese Professional Soccer league established
2001 China qualify for the World Cup

After 44 years, 67 matches with 26 opponents in the peripheral matches of World Cup, their quest ended with success in Wulihe, Shenyang, in 2001.

Of course, the team may not have qualified before, but there have been other highlights in their footballing history, especially in the 1980s.

And it was at this time that two of the country's legendary players were at the height of their powers, Li Fusheng and Da Yu Zhao.

Li Fusheng was a stalwart of the team between 1976 and 1984 and still holds the record for most international appearances with 54 caps.

Da Yu Zhao is one of the best strikers that China has ever produced and was top scorer with 19 goals between 1983 and 1985.

It was his goals that helped China to their biggest success so far, reaching the final of the Asian Nations Cup in 1984.

After edging through the semi-finals with a 1-0 victory over Kuwait, China eventually lost 2-0 to Saudi Arabia.

Developing side

It was a promising sign, and although China once again failed to qualify for the World Cup the following year, they made it to the Olympic Games for the first time in 1988.

The team secured the place with a 2-1 win over Japan in October of the previous year.

But once in Seoul, the team failed to get past the group stages, losing to Germany and Sweden and drawing with Tunisia.

In the 1990s, the finals of the World Cup continued to elude China, despite the experimentation with a number of foreign coaches, including German Klaus Schlappner and Englishman Bob Houghton.

But there were improvements on the domestic front.

In 1994, the Chinese Professional Soccer league was established and the national team had become a heavyweight of the Asian Cup competition, regularly reaching the latter stages.

After coach Houghton failed to lead the Olympic team to the Sydney Olympics in 2000, he was replaced by Bora Milutinovic from Yugoslavia.

Milutinovic immediately impressed fans and the media in the Asian Cup in Lebanon.

China may have only finished fourth, but a 2-2 draw with fierce rivals South Korea and a narrow defeat to Japan in the semi-finals appeased the critics.

A year later, Milutinovic ensured his place in the history books by leading his team to their first successful qualification campaign for the World Cup.

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COSTA RICA 3 -1 4
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