Towering pain for China and Yao Ming over World Cup flop

Sports | AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE 6 Sep 2019

The knives were out in China after the basketball World Cup hosts failed to reach the second round, triggering criticism normally reserved for the country's football squad.

Team boss and NBA Hall of Famer Yao Ming was reduced to 2.26 meters of melancholy at the Beijing courtside as his team were eliminated 72-59 by Venezuela.

Although not expected to go deep into the tournament, China's performance was a disappointment as they were drawn in one of the easiest preliminary groups.

They managed only one win - against lowly Ivory Coast - in three group games, underlining the challenge faced by Yao. He took over in 2017 as head of Chinese basketball with plans to revive its fortunes.

"We have certain advantages in Asia, but when faced with strong European and American teams we are always at a disadvantage," said the Beijing Youth Daily. "If Chinese basketball wants to [compete with big nations] there is still a long way to go."

Yao, now 38, led China to some of their best showings in global competitions, and his NBA success helped fuel basketball's popularity in the country and raised hopes of a new era.

Comments on Weibo ranged from disappointed to savage, with some fans comparing the basketballers to the perennially underachieving footballers.

China, ranked 30th in the world, pinned their hopes largely on a towering front court of Yi Jianlian, Zhou Qi and Wang Zhelin. But they failed to dominate.

Pressure for better results increases immediately, especially in the Olympic 2020 classification contests up next. For under this year's World Cup format China's tournament is not over, and they must rally in the classification round - they face South Korea today - with Tokyo Olympic qualifying in play.

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