With an average age of just 24, the youngest team in the 2004 FIFA Futsal World Championship, hosts Chinese Taipei were the most inexperienced side at the tournament, with 10 of their 14 players students from local colleges and universities.
Three successive group losses illustrated their rawness at the highest level and may have frustrated their supporters, but the team made steady progress and improvement in these games. Their first-ever FIFA World Championship goals in the final match with Ukraine will have impressed their supporters and will give the island's starlets confidence to approach the future with optimism.
Tseng Tai Lin: Feeling like a star
For 22-year-old forward Tseng Tai Lin, backbone of the Chinese Taipei team, the FIFA Futsal World Championship was something much more than just three group matches with the world's best. "I had good chances to score but I missed them unfortunately. But I am very happy as it was really nice to have fans coming to you for autographs and pictures," the student at Taipei Mingchuan University recalled with a measure of obvious excitement. "I felt like a star!"
But it took him 14 years to grow up into one of the leading players on the island. At the age of eight, he was sent to a football summer camp under coach Gao Yong, who guided the Chinese Taipei women's football team to the Asian championship in the 1980's. He quickly became a revelation in the camp for his footballing talents and four years ago he was recruited into the Chinese Taipei futsal team.
"This FIFA Futsal World Championship offered us good chances to display how much we have improved and sparked immense interest from our supporters. It has also encouraged our football association to continue efforts to promote futsal," he went on. "In my childhood, few schoolboys played football, but after the FIFA tournament the Football Association plans to have futsal matches organised in all schools in Taipei."
This tournament has also helped change his future plans. "After graduation I will not go to work, but continue my studies instead," explained the university student, whose current major is tourism. "But I will give up tourism and choose a new subject - football." Tai Lin told FIFA.com that his dream is to become a football coach if there is not a league where he can play.
"He is a versatile player in both 11-a-side football and futsal," said coach Gao Yong, who is coaching Tai Lin's university team of Mingchuan. "He has good potential at such a young age. We are thinking of sending him to the Belgian league where he could have chance to play professionally."
Chen Chia Ho: Dreaming of playing professional football
The 18-year-old produced a moment of magic when he opened his team's account in their final match with Ukraine. He says that it's been the most important time in his life to have his goal celebrated by thousands of supporters in the stands.
"We knew these matches would be hard and we had little hope beating those big names in the futsal world," the China Culture University teenager told FIFA.com. "We had three group losses but we gave all we had and scored two goals. We are a very young team and with a couple more years' experience, we can be much better."
Chia Ho started playing futsal only two years ago, but with impressive vision and delicate skills, he soon found his place in the Chinese Taipei team. Playing futsal, for him, is not merely a task, but pure joy, "I love this game - I love the training and the matches."
Chia Ho is currently a student of physical education and he said his futsal career has just started. "My next aim will the AFC Futsal Championship in 2005 and in the long run, I hope we will have a league so I can play professional futsal."
Chang Chien Ying: Support from family
Chia Ho's "shi xiong (older team mate)" Chang Chien Ying, who scored the second goal for Chinese Taipei, has witnessed the whole process of futsal development in Chinese Taipei.
"Four years ago when we started playing futsal, the current General Secretary Chang Chan Wei was our coach. He gave us our first futsal lessons - these were very important for us. Later he invited the famous international coach Damien Knabben to take our futsal education even farther," the 22-year-old recalled.
Chien Ying and his Chiggia teammate played superbly in the local futsal tournament, dominating the annual event alongside the Mingchan University team and the Tatong team. "The three competitors took turns winning the cup and actually, all our players come from the three mentioned teams."
While proud of Chiggia's domestic success, Chien Ying was certainly impressed with the FIFA Futsal World Championship, where he was able to rub shoulders with the world's best for the first time. "Before we knew that by attacking you could win a game, but now we keep in mind that by making too many mistakes you will surely lose a game. All our three group opponents, Spain, Egypt and Ukraine played modern futsal with lightning speed, sublime skills and a mature understanding of the game." He admitted it was technique and mentality that he and his teammates will have to improve first.
But the huge gaps can't prevent the ambitious young man sharing his love of futsal with his family. "Many people around me began to show interest in futsal after the start of this tournament, including my family. My Dad had a serious discussion with me after each match," he recalled with a smile. "After our opening 12-0 drubbing at the hands of Spain, he came to me yelling 'son, you looked nervous out there'."
Away from all the close attention, Chien Ying has a strong determination to become a footballer. "After graduation I would like to carry on my futsal career and even if the expected futsal league is not launched by then, I can still play 11-a-side football."