China PR international Jiayi Shao has played his club
football in Germany for the last five years. The player initially
signed professional forms in his home country where he appeared 66
times for Guo'an Beijing, before switching to then German top
flight outfit TSV 1860 Munich in 2002.
The attacking midfielder spent a couple of seasons as a squad player but gradually grew in stature and appeared in 25 of the Lions' 34 second division fixtures in 2004-5. In the following summer, the 27-year-old switched to Bundesliga side Energie Cottbus where he continues to ply his trade today. FIFA.com asked Shao about his targets with the national team and the state of the game in his home country.
FIFA.com: China PR made their solitary FIFA World Cup finals appearance in 2002. In the first qualifying round for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, the team comfortably defeated Myanmar. What are your goals in the current qualifying competition?
Jiayi Shao: We want a place in South Africa. Our goal is to qualify for the 2010 World Cup. We narrowly missed out on the 2006 finals, but this time we intend to make it, despite the tough competitive situation in Asia. Our rivals have gained a lot of experience at previous World Cups, but if we can play to our strengths, we have a very good chance of making the finals for the second time.
China were surprisingly eliminated from this year's AFC Asian Cup in the preliminary round. What were the reasons behind this disappointing outcome?
I think it all came down to our last match against Uzbekistan. We played well in our first two group matches, and we were probably over-confident. We simply went out there with the wrong attitude, and we underestimated our opponents. Our lack of international experience was another factor in our early exit, although despite all this, the tournament wasn't a fair reflection of our potential. We're fifth in the Asian pecking order behind Japan, Iran, Korea Republic and Saudi Arabia. We have a young team, and we can look forward to a bright future.
After a spell under Zhu Guanghu, a foreigner is back at the China helm, namely Serbian coach Vladimir Petrovic. What changes has the new coach made?
I've not personally met the new coach yet because of a stubborn foot injury, but we've spoken on the phone and talked at length about the current situation. As soon as I recover full fitness, I'll be back as a member of the national squad. Our coach already has some experience of China [Petrovic coached Chinese club Dalian Shide to the domestic double in 2005 - Ed.], and that'll help him a lot. He'll quickly assess the team's strengths and weaknesses, and he understands the way we play in China.
With 43 caps, you rate as one of China's most experienced players, and at 27 you're the perfect age for a midfielder. Where do you see yourself in the national set-up?
Playing for China remains a dream come true. I think my international experience and my technical ability are important things I can contribute to the national set-up. The five years I've spent gaining experience in the German Bundesliga are enormously important for me personally, and also for the national team.
Looking at the current China squad, what are the strengths, and what are the areas for improvement?
We're definitely strong in terms of technical proficiency. We have good team spirit, both on and off the field of play. However, we generally lack international experience. Playing the leading European nations like Germany, Italy or France more often would be enormously valuable for the team. We've actually met European nations several times in recent years, but we need to test ourselves even more often against the leading nations and learn from these fixtures.
You left Asia to pursue your career in Europe several years ago. What were the biggest and most difficult hurdles you've had to overcome, both on and off the field?
In my private life, the language was definitely the biggest barrier at the start of my time in Germany. Chinese and German don't have a lot in common. In sporting terms I had to appreciate that the German footballing mentality is all about fighting spirit, which is completely different to China. The transition was really tough at the start, because we attacking players are obliged to do a lot of defending. But I've learnt a lot in the meantime and I'm very settled in the Bundesliga.
China hosted the FIFA Women's World Cup 2007 a short time ago. How has the tournament influenced the development of the game in your home country?
Back in the summer of 2006, we saw what a positive influence a World Cup can have. The world turned its gaze on Germany, and Germany looked out on the world. That's what happened in China during the Women's World Cup. It was a fantastic tournament with big crowds, and it was very important for China. I'm sure lots of kids and youths have taken up the game as a result of the tournament.
As hosts, China qualify automatically for next year's Olympic football tournament in Beijing. What will be the team's goals at this event?
I have a personal goal of playing for China at this tournament. I'm absolutely determined to be part of it. I come from Beijing and hosting the Olympics is a dream come true. If we could make the quarter-finals, or even the last four, that would rate as a huge success.
The situation in the Chinese Super League could hardly be tighter at the moment, with just a handful of points covering the top five. Your former club Guo'an Beijing are right up there at the top. Who'll win the title in China this season?
It's hard to assess from a distance, but obviously I'm crossing my fingers for my former club. Looking ahead to the 2008 Olympics, and as a boost for the city, it would be good for the trophy to make its way to Beijing.