Profiles - World Cup Teams - China
China PR For China, the most satisfying part of the World Cup - getting to the finals for the first time after a series of heartbreaking near-misses - is over.

Overcoming a 44-year-long jinx with a convincing run through the qualifiers for the finals in South Korea and Japan has sent the world's most populous nation into ecstasy.

The country does not really expect the fifth team that Bora Milutinovic will coach at a World Cup finals to make much of an impact against vastly more experienced sides drawing on players performing at the highest club level.

Yet in Chinese people's hearts, hopes have never run higher.

Thousands of fans are planning to make the short trip across the sea to catch their team's games next summer.

People believe that the 'magical' Milutinovic can help a team who will enter the finals under little pressure and with lots of confidence to spring a few upsets.

After all, he got Costa Rica, the United States, Mexico and Nigeria into the second round of past World Cup finals.

But 'Milu', as he is known throughout the enormous land, is being very careful not to put pressure on a squad that choked in the 1993 and 1997 World Cup qualifiers when on the verge of going through.

Instead, following in the tradition of Chinese Marxist idealists, he has set extra-long-term targets.

'I hope the time it takes China to become the World Cup champions won't exceed 50 years,' he announced at a state ceremony in Beijing's Great Hall of the People to honour the squad. 'This shows I'm very confident in the Chinese team.'

Milutinovic has kept the 4-4-2 formation he inherited from Briton Bobby Houghton but transformed it into a quick-strike unit which blossomed in the final round of qualifiers after 18 months of sub-par results.

A turning point was his decision in August to realign his midfield into a diamond capable of exploiting holes opened up by strikers acting as decoys.

The scheme worked to perfection in China's 3-0 rout of Qatar when veteran midfielder Ma Mingyu dummied a shot from the wing before feeding the ball to Qu Bo, who drilled the ball home.

The speedy Qu, a 20-year-old attacking midfielder recently elevated from China's youth team, is one of several young substitutes who netted goals and gained experience as the team clinched their berth with two qualifiers still to play.

Former Crystal Palace defenders Sun Jihai, and skipper Fan Zhiyi, who recently moved from Crystal Palace to Dundee, are the core of a seasoned defence capable of launching swift counter-attacks.

China's brightest young player is defensive midfielder Li Tie of Liaoning Fushun.

Li, an inexhaustible 24-year-old emerging as playmaker, has attracted interest from Ajax Amsterdam, not least by setting up the goal that clinched China's ticket to the finals.

He is one reason China consistently controlled the midfield during their qualifying matches.

But to the cynics among China's oft-disappointed fans and media, the squad have yet to shake off their image of a scrappy team whose luck can turn on a bounce.

That might happen in the finals and it might not. But for most, just getting there represents some kind of tangible success. homepage