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SOGWIPO, South Korea:

China should qualify again in 2006 and be among the world's top 10 soccer nations in the next 10 years, according to the head of the Asian Football Confederation. This is in spite of two defeats on their World Cup debut.

But China needs to shake up its professional league, gain more exposure to top international sides and recruit more young talent, Peter Velappan told reporters before visiting China at their training camp on the southern Korean island of Cheju

Asia is likely to be granted five berths for the World Cup finals in 2006 as promised, especially if Sough Korea or Japan reaches the second round this year, he said.

"In Asia, now there is a good chance of five sides, it would be a real tragedy if China did not qualify," he added.

Critics say that China only won a berth in this year's finals because they did not have to face Japan and South Korea who qualified automatically as hosts, and got an easy draw in the qualifiers.

"We need another 10 years to get China up to their real level," Velappan said. " In the next 10 years, we should expect China will be in the top 10. There is no reason why not."

China's coach, Bora Milutinovic, said he hoped China could reach the 2006 finals in Germany but he thought it would take longer to reach the top tiers of international football.

"It's a good wish to have but I think it will be hard to become one of the top 10 in the world." I hope we van continue to improve steadily. If we can stay in the top 32, that's already a great thing," he concluded.

Velappan said he was impressed with the skills and fitness of the Chinese players in June 8's group C match against Brazil, which the four -time world champions won 4-0. But, he said China had thrown away too many chances. (来源:EnglishCN.com)

"They tried to play like Brazil which is not haw they should have played," he said. "Their organization on the field was not good. They had the chance to score and even to cause an upset but they did not take their chance."

Velappan highlighted midfielder Li Tie and the players who appeared at the World Youth Championships in Argentina in 2001 as the rising names of Chinese football. These include defender Du Wei and striker Qu Bo.

"Li Tie and all these guys are the potential for 2006," he said, adding that they needed as much exposure as possible to the strong European side.

He concluded by saying that "The World Cup is for hardcore professionals, not for amateurs," explaining that the Europeans dominated the competition because they played top level soccer twice a week.

"Mentally, physically, they ate tough and mature," he said. "This is what we need in Asia. Our football is too soft."
 
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